JACKSON – “Nearly 20 percent of the services we provide with the state general fund, we cannot afford. … We’ve got to cut spending,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said yesterday at a roundtable meeting at Jackson High School.

The meeting brought the Jackson area’s business, legislative and community leaders together in a public forum to discuss the potential impact of imminent cuts in funding for a wide variety of state programs, including higher education.

The governor estimated that funding for higher education and public universities, which makes up 26 percent of the $8 billion general fund, will suffer from a 3.5 percent cut this year. These numbers are up from a 2 percent cut that was proposed by former Gov. John Engler in December.

The governor said that while education remains one of her top priorities, she believes the majority of people in Michigan would place K-12 education ahead of higher education. She also suggested that universities would have to be resourceful in finding other means of funding.

“I’ve met with the presidents of the universities to discuss this issue. They’ve got to do the job in terms of leveraging their relationships with businesses in the community,” Granholm said. “(The universities) have got to be an economic development arm within the community.”

University officials said they were long aware of the impending cuts and are prepared to meet the challenge.

“When we were passing our budget last July, we were aware that the state was facing these kinds of problems,” University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said. “It’s very unfortunate, but we’re prepared to adjust.”

Peterson added that while the budget situation at the University is serious, there will be no mid-term tuition increases, which has been the case at other universities.

Among the higher education programs most affected by the budget cuts is the Life Sciences Corridor – a partnership between state universities to promote the life sciences – which will lose $12.5 million this year.

“The state is really on a path towards growth in the life sciences sector. Earlier they had been prepared to cut the Life Sciences Corridor by $25 million. They did the best they could to shelter these funds,” Peterson said.

The forum was the first of several meetings Granholm plans to hold between now and the announcement of her budget proposal in March. The governor also asked those in attendance for feedback about how the depletion of state funding should be handled and how communities can form creative solutions to deal with the budget problem.

“When you are in a crisis it forces you to look at things in a different way. You cannot act according to the way that you’ve acted in the past,” Granholm said.

Community leaders in attendance were generally in support of Granholm’s proposals, but offered many differing opinions about which programs were most important to the state. State Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Monroe) attended the forum and commented on the ways that conflicting agendas add to the budget problem.

“Everybody wants to dip into that rainy day fund. I still think that people in general think that there’s a pot of money up there in Lansing and there’s not,” Hammerstrom said.

“I’ve met with the presidents of the universities to discuss this issue. They’ve got to do the job in terms of leveraging their relationships with businesses in the community,” Granholm said. “(The universities) have got to be an economic development arm within the community.”

University of Michigan officials said they were long aware of the impending cuts and are prepared to meet the challenge.

“When we were passing our budget last July, we were aware that the state was facing these kinds of problems,” University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said. “It’s very unfortunate, but we’re prepared to adjust.”

Peterson added that while the budget situation at the University is serious, there will be no mid-term tuition increases, which has been the case at other universities.

Among the higher education programs most affected by the budget cuts is the Life Sciences Corridor – a partnership between state universities to promote the life sciences – which will lose $12.5 million this year.

“The state is really on a path towards growth in the life sciences sector. Earlier they had been prepared to cut the Life Sciences Corridor by $25 million. They did the best they could to shelter these funds,” Peterson said.

The forum was the first of several meetings Granholm plans to hold between now and the announcement of her budget proposal in March. The governor also asked those in attendance for feedback about how the depletion of state funding should be handled and how communities can form creative solutions to deal with the budget problem.

“When you are in a crisis it forces you to look at things in a different way. You cannot act according to the way that you’ve acted in the past,” Granholm said.

Community leaders in attendance were generally in support of Granholm’s proposals, but differed about which programs were most important to the state. State Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance) attended the forum and commented on the ways that conflicting agendas add to the budget problem.

“Everybody wants to dip into that rainy day fund. I still think that people in general think that there’s a pot of money up there in Lansing and there’s not,” Hammerstrom said.

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