Legislative Update: Higher Education Takes Spotlight

Monday, March 5 2012

By Joe Stegner
Special Assistant to the President for State Governmental Relations

It has been a very productive week at the Idaho legislature and a great week for higher education in our state. The budget bill for colleges and universities was passed by the Joint Finance and Appropriates Committee, and is now headed to the Senate and House floors for approval. Nearly all Gov. Butch Otter’s budget requests for higher education were approved.

The University of Idaho received $878,800 for Enrollment Work Load Adjustment. This is the first time in several years that the legislature has funded this item, which is aimed at helping institutions provide for increases in the number of students. According to the Office of Performance Evaluations, such increases are designed to become part of future base budgets.

President Nellis stressed in his JFAC presentation to legislators earlier in the year, that his number one priority was pay raises. The 20-member committee listened and approved a two-percent ongoing increase for state employees. Extra money was also added to specifically assist in health benefit coverage. The state will pick-up most of the increased cost of health care for employees.

Next on the list, U-Idaho received $651,200 for occupancy costs. This money is budgeted for the cost of operating and maintaining new facilities. Only a portion of the governor’s request was approved. Occupancy costs have not been funded in the past several years.

You have probably heard a lot about the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission, also known as IGEM. Five million dollars was allocated by JFAC to IGEM. Broken down, $2 million of that will be given to the three state universities for research at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) based in Idaho Falls. Two million dollars will be given to Idaho’s three universities for the new IGEM research initiative, and $1 million will go to the Idaho Department of Commerce to use as competitive grants for businesses. In the past, CAES has only received one-time money from the state. It will now be a part of the general budget.

Not discussed this week was the Higher Education Budget Stabilization Fund. This is the state’s savings account for higher education. Gov. Otter has asked for $5 million to be put into that rainy day account. It is undetermined if that will happen this session. The account is relatively new, and this would be the first time money.
In total, JFAC approved nearly $228 million for the general fund appropriation for all colleges and universities and more than $218 million in dedicated funds to high education. It’s a total of around $446 million. If approved by the legislature, this will be an increase of more than eight percent in general funds over last year’s appropriations, and a 12.5 percent overall increase in total higher ed funding.

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to more than 70 additional research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. Learn more: www.uidaho.edu.