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Funds for higher education increase in new state budget

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 5, 2014

On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) announced his executive budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year in a presentation to a joint session of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees.

The budget, which totals $52.1 billion, includes significant increases in several areas such as K-12 education, as well as proposals for tax relief and assistance for Detroit during bankruptcy its proceedings.

Public universities were recommended to receive a substantial 6.1-percent funding increase amounting to $80.3 million, which represents both the largest increase in higher education funding since 2001 and a structural reversal from the 15-percent decrease in education funding Snyder proposed in 2011 during his first year as governor.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said the increase in education funding, along with proposed tax relief measures, represented some of the major differences between the governor’s latest budget proposal and those from previous years.

“You can tell it’s an election year with how different this budget is from the previous budgets I’ve had the opportunity to vote on,” Irwin said. “We’re actually seeing education get the money; we’re actually seeing tax relief being targeted more broadly rather than just at wealthy individuals.”

During his announcement, the governor linked this year’s increase in higher education funding to Michigan’s improved financial situation, calling the initial cut in 2011 one of the tough choices that had to be made in light of budget deficits.

In response to questions from state representatives after the announcement, State Budget Director John Nixon said the governor’s office didn’t necessarily see the decrease in education funding — among other areas — as a permanent decision, and wants to work on bringing them back up.

“We’d like to at least get them to back to the level where we were before the governor took office,” Nixon said.

The proposed increase comes with one main condition: Universities receiving increased state funds must keep tuition increases at or below 3.2 percent. Along with performance measures, tuition caps have become fairly common stipulations for higher education funding in the state in recent years.

Last summer, the University’s Board of Regents approved the lowest tuition increase in 29 years: 1.1 percent for in-state students and 3.2 percent for out-of-state students.

In the fall of 2012, the University received an additional $1.1 million from the state for keeping tuition increases below 4 percent.

In a statement released Wednesday, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, characterized the increase in funding as great news for higher education accessibility and affordability.

“State investment in higher education is a smart investment in the future of Michigan,” Wilbanks wrote. “Of course, we also have to do our part in higher education.