After a year that saw a 6.5 percent increase in state appropriations for Michigan”s 15 public universities, Gov. John Engler”s proposed budget for the upcoming year recommends only a 2 percent funding increase for higher education.

State Budget Director Mary Lannoye will present Engler”s budget proposal for fiscal year 2002 today at the state Capitol in Lansing.

State Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek), who chairs the Senate Appropriations higher education subcommittee, said yesterday that the higher education budget is expected to include only a 2 percent across-the-board increase. Engler”s recommendation last year called for a 2.5 percent increase.

Schwarz expressed “cautious optimism” about the proposal and said the final figures usually are higher than the governor”s initial recommendation. “We can take the governor”s numbers and massage them and then get some numbers that we can work with,” he said.

University of Michigan President Lee Bollinger last October requested a 7 percent increase from the state, up from the 5.7 percent increase allotted to the University during the current fiscal year.

Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for government relations, said it is too early to speculate on the amount of next year”s tuition increase, which depends heavily on state funding.

“It is too early to tell what recommendations we”re looking at because we are only in the beginning stages of appropriations,” she said.

Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Department of Management and Budget, said Engler”s higher education proposal will retain the tier system that was first introduced two years ago.

The system groups the 15 public universities into a number of tiers, which each have minimum per-student funding floors. The University of Michigan has been in the highest tier both years.

Chesney said the governor also wants to repeal the tuition tax credit, which gives a credit to parents of students attending a university that keeps tuition rate increases below the rate of inflation. Because inflation has remained so low in recent years, even the smallest tuition increases have not been able to meet that requirement.

“It has not been as effective as we wanted it to be in restraining tuition and making college more affordable,” Chesney said.

Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), whose district includes the University of Michigan, said she also supports a repeal of the tuition tax credit, which would likely allow an increase of about 3.5 percent in higher education spending.

“The subcommittee under Senator Schwarz has been working very hard to making sure that corrections does not overspend education,” said Smith, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the higher education subcommittee.

After several years of budget surpluses, the state is expected to see a 0.5 percent revenue increase in the General Fund over this year”s budget, Chesney said. The projected revenue increase would amount to only about $43 million, out of the $36 billion budget. “There will not be a great deal of growth in this budget,” Chesney said. Bu,t she said, the budget “continues the governor”s commitment to education.”

Engler has ordered all state programs, with the exceptions of K-12 and higher education, the judiciary and the Legislature to slash 0.5 percent off their budgets by April.

“My guess is that based on the economic projections we cannot expect much more,” said Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor). “Some representatives want to cut taxes more. I think we need to seriously think about making increases in higher education spending.”

Schwarz said the appropriations process will likely end in June, and the budgets take effect Oct. 1, at the beginning of the new fiscal year. “There”s much work to be done,” he said.

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