Gov. Jennifer Granholm will announce her proposals for $1.9 billion in cuts to balance Michigan’s state budget today.

A sizable portion of the cuts will likely come from funding for public universities and higher education programs. In a series of town hall meetings over the last few weeks, the governor has asked citizens in attendance to prioritize state spending – with grim results for higher education.

“In every instance in which (Granholm) has asked citizens where they would cut the first dollar, those citizens have placed higher education near the top of the list,” Granholm spokeswoman Elizabeth Boyd said.

The governor’s recommendations are subject to change by the state Legislature.

The $363.3 million in state funds originally allocated to the University for 2002 to 2003 has already been reduced by 3.5 percent in executive orders from Granholm and former Gov. John Engler over the past year.

University Provost Paul Courant estimated that total cuts to University funding could amount to about $36 million over the course of two years should the additional cuts Granholm will propose today be approved by the state legislature.

“We’ll try to cut costs and look for other means of revenue and lastly we’ll raise tuition, which I promise you will be as little as possible,” Courant said.

Last year, tuition rose 7.9 percent in spite of steady state funding to the University, indicating that increases this year could be even more sizable.

Courant added that an additional $50 million in new costs for next year further complicate the University’s economic position. As a result, alternative sources of revenue could be the University’s saving grace, as community partnerships and a large student body offer opportunities that other state universities do not have.

“The larger universities will be able to weather the storm a little more easily than the smaller ones,” former state Sen. and 2002 gubernatorial candidate John Schwarz said. “In Ann Arbor you have more access to other sources of income. The University could take more out of state students or raise tuition to partially cover the loss.”

Critics of cutting higher education before other programs are wary of the danger of excessive cuts to public universities.

Schwarz, the former chair of the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, asserted the importance of universities as an economic development instrument and a symbol of pride.

“The universities are the beacon of excellence that we have in our state, and I’m one of the people who is old enough to know that that is absolutely true,” Schwarz said.

“Higher education has to share the burden, but it is counterproductive to pile on cuts to the universities.”

Granholm has been secretive about the specifics of her proposed cuts, but her spokeswoman said that open dialogue with higher education officials has been an important part of the decision-making process.

“It’s been an open process and the governor’s staff has had several meetings with the university presidents,” Boyd said. “None of the details of the budget have been shared, but it’s been a process based upon communication.”

University President Mary Sue Coleman will address the campus community about the implication of the cuts shortly after the governor’s announcement.

“She’s been preparing and the University has been preparing before the current president was in office,” Coleman’s chief of staff, Chacona Johnson, said.

Granholm is also expected to propose cuts to the state universities’ Life Sciences Corridor, which would limit funding for university research projects, and to decrease revenue sharing, resulting in cuts for police and fire services.

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