Skubick: Lawmakers eye money shuffle in higher education funding

Michigan

The legislative Republicans have not realized their budget recommendations but it appears not everybody on the Republican side knows what is going on regarding higher education funding.

So what’s behind the Republican “miscommunication” ?

Senate and House budget committee chairpersons Sen. Jim Stamos and Rep. Shane Hernandez report they are making good progress on finalizing their budget proposals but a snafu surfaced this week on higher education funding.

Freshman House Republican Rep. Jack O’Malley chairs the House Transportation Committee and he told a meeting of Michigan broadcasters this week that his party wanted to take $500 million away from higher education which would indirectly free-up $500 million for road repairs.

Higher education, which is already complaining about a skimpy state aid increase this year, was not going to be happy, especially in light of the budget cuts the schools have taken since 2001.

“We’re a billion dollars below of where we were in 2001 with the state investment in higher education,” said Rep. O’Malley. “And that has essentially meant a shift in who pays for a higher education, a shift from the state to students.”

Well, the good news for higher education is Mr. O’Malley got it wrong.

Or so says Sen. Kurt Vanderwall, who chairs the Senate Higher Education budget. He explains,  “There was a miscommunication. Yes, we are removing the school aid dollars from higher education but we are backfilling it with $500 million from the General Fund.”  In other words, there is no cut to higher ed and he adds there will be a slight increase.

Mr. O’Malley had other things to say at the broadcasters meeting that were not challenged by anyone.

For one thing, the governor wants the roads fixed in ten years but the House Republicans reportedly want to stretch that out to 15.

The Republican argument is there are not enough construction workers to squeeze all the work in by 2030.

The governor also wants $2.5 billion a year for the roads but Republicans are looking at slightly more than a billion.

And Mr. O’Malley raised the question: does the state need all its universities, especially when you consider that the U of M and MSU have giant endowment funds.

So far nobody in the legislature has suggested mothballing any one of those 14 universities.

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