With the state facing an estimated deficit of $900 million, funding for Michigan public universities for the next academic year is expected to remain low and could even be cut.

The amount of funding the University receives usually determines tuition for that year.

When State Treasurer Doug Roberts met with the directors of the House and Senate fiscal agencies Tuesday to make revenue estimates for the coming fiscal year, they predicted fiscal year 2003 revenue would drop 0.4 percent from 2002.

State Budget Director Don Gilmer will make Gov. John Engler”s budget presentation to the Legislature Feb. 7, and indications are that higher education funding will be cut.

“(The governor) doesn”t think there will be a department in state government that will not face cuts,” said Engler spokesman Matt Resch. When asked if that included the state”s universities and colleges, Resch added, “Everyone needs to be prepared to tighten their belts.”

The state”s constitution requires a balanced budget.

Last summer, Engler and the Legislature approved a 1.5 percent increase in funding for the University of Michigan, but with that funding, the Board of Regents approved a tuition increase of 6.5 percent for most students.

The budget presentation kicks off the several month-long appropriations process in which legislators wrangle over the funding of the numerous state-supported institutions.

“A lot of hard decisions are certainly going to be made,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan. “But again the point needs to be made that what happens on the appropriation front certainly has a significant bearing on the institution on the tuition front.”

Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees higher education funding, outlined the prospects for this fiscal year. The worst case scenario for the University is a 5 percent cut, the best a budget that maintains the same funding as last year, he said.

The last time the University saw a “flat” budget increase was during the 1993-1994 fiscal year.

Some legislators have called for a pause in the phase-outs of the state”s single business and income taxes, the rates of which decline by one-tenth of one percent each year by law. This, they say, would generate more revenue and allow for more wiggle room for appropriations. But it is unclear whether such a pause has enough support for passage, and the governor remains noncommittal.

“Everything”s on the table and everything”s open for consideration, and he”ll look at all options to make sure that our budget is balanced and to make sure Michigan is an economically competitive state,” Resch said.

While Schwarz and Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, have called for a temporary pause, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. A.T. Frank of Saginaw, said for the moment he is against it.

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