HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION PANEL MOVES BUDGET BILLS
Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State
University would receive appropriations via a separate budget bill under
legislation approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher
Education on Tuesday.
HB 4350 and HB 4351, totaling $1.86 billion ($1.73 billion general
funds) are now the first appropriation bills to be sent to the full
House Appropriations Committee.
But getting them there wasn't the easiest of tasks.
From the get-go, Rep. Fran Amos (R-Waterford) questioned how the
subcommittee would pay for the $50.8 million total that is above what
Governor Jennifer Granholm recommended in her executive budget. The
subcommittee's version concurred with the governor in providing a 2.5
percent across-the-board increase in operational funding for the
schools. But the bills also continue the Tuition Grant Program funded
at $58 million, which the governor had recommended for deletion, and
adds $3.6 million in appropriations for Indian Tuition Waivers.
Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea), chair of the subcommittee, said much of
the 4.3 percent increase being offered in the bills compared to current
year appropriations has to do with the delayed payment to universities
totaling $69.3 million. The state is making its August payment to
those universities on October 16 under Executive Order 2007-3.
However, when Ms. Amos reiterated that the appropriation is above the
governor's ($1.81 billion total spending of which $1.68 billion is in
general funds), Ms. Byrnes said the bills were somewhat higher, but she
added, "We all realize higher education is key to economic development
and we're putting our money where our mouth is."
Rep. David Agema (R-Grandville) also took issue with the fact that the
disparity between university funding was increasing by giving
across-the-board raises, when, for instance, Grand Valley State
University is starting out at appropriations below some of the other
institutions. Like the executive recommendation, the House
subcommittee concurred on deleting the university-funding model House
Republicans had installed for the fiscal year 2006-2007.
There was also some discontent on the panel in separating out the three
research universities from the other 12 public institutions.
Boilerplate language was added to require that UM, MSU and Wayne State
consolidate their programs and services and report to the state on those
"There are 15 great public universities in the state of Michigan and
while I recognize the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne
State have a role to play in certain areas that doesn't diminish the
roles and opportunities of the other universities," said Rep. Bill Caul
(R-Mt. Pleasant), who then listed off a series of research projects
being headed up by the other 12 schools.
Ms. Byrnes, who also ran off a list of how the other 12 schools were
succeeding in their own right, said having two budget bills was in no
way trying to diminish any of the schools, but that "we need to realize
that by distinguishing our three universities we're making a bold
statement to the nation and to the world that we value research. We
need to be embracing our universities and moving forward"
But Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Ypsilanti) said the distinction being
created by the two bills was an artificial division that would likely
end up in the courts. She also argued that the three universities got
into research because of what it offered their institutions and in no
way would jobs be created solely for the fact that the Legislature chose
to fund the schools in two bills and not one.
An amendment was offered on HB 4350 to roll the appropriations into one
bill, but that did not come until the subcommittee had already voted out
HB 4351, which deals with the funding for UM, MSU and WSU. The
amendment failed on a 5-4 vote, with all the Republican members and Ms.
Smith supporting while the other Democratic members dissented.
On HB 4351, Ms. Smith also offered an amendment to roll the funding for
the Agriculture Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension into the
MSU operations line, saying that would protect the programs from being
targeted for cuts (and if they were cut, MSU could use its
appropriations to supplement that hit). But the amendment failed after
Steve Webster, MSU vice president, said the industry and communities
involved in the programs would like to see them separated to allow for
The subcommittee version of the bill does include a 2.5 percent
increase, or $845,700, in funding for the Agriculture Experiment Station
and the panel retained current-year funding of $29 million for
Cooperative Extension. The governor had recommended that the
Agriculture Experiment Station be funded at the current-year level of
$33.8 million and reduced Cooperative Extension funding by 10 percent.
HB 4350 was reported out on a 6-0-3 vote (Republicans abstained), while
HB 4351 was reported out on a 5-3-0 vote, with Ms. Smith joining
Republicans in dissention.
After the vote, The Education Alliance for Michigan, which comprises
nine of the schools, argued the subcommittee had made an unprecedented
and unnecessary budget maneuver that 80 percent of residents are opposed
to according to a recent survey.
"Many students and parents favor smaller campuses with more hands-on
attention from faculty and staff. Universities like Oakland offer
things the three largest universities can't possibly provide," said
Rochelle Black, director of government relations for Oakland University.
"This proposal is pulling us apart when we need to work together.
The ones hurt most by this are Michigan's students - this is
shortchanging our future with shortsighted thinking."