F.Y. '10 MINUS 8: HIGHER ED BUDGET GUTS FINANCIAL AID

Division over eliminating the $4,000 Promise Grant continued to run deep Wednesday with two of the three Democrats on the higher education conference committee - including the chair - voting against the budget.

In the end, it took Rep. George Cushingberry Jr.'s (D-Detroit) vote to push the conference report on HB 4441 *out of committee and onto the floor where it faces an uncertain future.

Mr. Cushingberry said he plans to introduce a supplemental that would fund the Promise Grant, but he stopped short of naming a specific revenue source to restore funding.

"To my friends, don't come to talk to me unless you have a revenue source to replace those funds," Mr. Cushingberry said. "It's time to grow up and be men and women who have the guts to put our money where our mouth is."

As the budget was reported out on a 4-2 vote, with Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing) and Sen. Jim Barcia (D-Bay City) dissenting, both Democrats said the state made a promise to these students and reneging on that would force them to figure out how to pay for school this semester.

Ms. Bauer expressed hope for a supplemental, but she said with other cuts to scholarship programs Michigan would now rank in the bottom third for state support for college students.

Sen. Tony Stamas (R-Midland) said the budget simply represents the target legislators were given.

Governor Jennifer Granholm's press office denounced the cuts.

"Governor Granholm strongly opposes the higher education conference report. The governor wants a budget that protects the Michigan Promise scholarship that helps families pay tuition. We applaud Representative Bauer and Senator Barcia for standing up for Michigan college students and their families."

Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the cuts to higher education would be devastating for students.

He said the state needs a new revenue source for these "top priorities," but he didn't say what that should be.

"We've got to start investing in Michigan," he said. "There's no strategic vision."

Overall, the budget totals $1.6 billion, of which $1.5 billion comes from the general fund. That represents an 8.4 percent general fund cut from the current fiscal year.

Universities would see a 0.4 percent cut to their operational budgets, but would also receive funding from the federal stimulus. The Agriculture Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service also would be cut by 0.4 percent.

Ms. Bauer said she was happy to see the King-Chavez-Parks grants were maintained, but voiced concern over the part-time independent student, Michigan Education Opportunity and nursing scholarship financial aid programs that were cut.

The Tuition Grant program, which goes to need-based students attending private colleges, also received a cut of 44 percent ($25 million).