After Gov. John Engler’s budget-trimming executive order cut higher education funding, some Michigan lawmakers are hoping they can use the state’s supplemental budget to direct more money to colleges and universities.

But when the state Senate considers the budget this week, an amendment attached by the House of Representatives that changes the way university boards are elected could poison the bill.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. James Koetje (R-Walker), makes the funding in the supplemental bill dependent on passage of Koetje’s bill that regionalizes the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Michigan State University Board of Trustees and Wayne State University Board of Governors.

Now, voters choose the board members in statewide elections. Koetje’s bill would divide the boards’ constituents into four districts using the state Court of Appeals district boundaries.

“The Senate plans to take that amendment off,” Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) said. Adding an unrelated measure to a budget bill is inappropriate, he said.

The main focus of the supplemental budget is to make added cuts still needed after Engler’s order repaired most of the $460 million budget deficit.

Included in the bill, however, is a provision that would transfer nearly $11 million from surplus Michigan Merit Award money to higher education.

Its practical effect will be to cushion the executive order’s cuts, reducing them from 2.5 to 2 percent.

Schwarz said the University of Michigan would receive $1.8 million in supplemental funds.

The Senate approved the supplemental budget in its original form. If it refuses to accept the attached amendment, the bill will likely go to conference committee, where the House and Senate will attempt to resolve differences.

Emily Gerkin, spokeswoman for House Speaker Rick Johnson of LeRoy, said while House Republicans support added funding for universities, “we’re also very interested in getting the Koetje bill approved, and we think they go hand in hand together.”

“Our new proposal brings more local representation from around the state to the university boards,” she said.

Of the 24 members of the boards next year, 17 hail from Washtenaw, Wayne or Oakland counties, a proportion that would be drastically altered by the new system.

But Regent-elect Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park) said the current system gives everyone in the state an equal vote in choosing all the members that represent them.

“I am opposed to the concept of districts because I think it will lead to decisions being made on a parochial basis, rather than on the basis of what is good for the University, the students and the people of the state of Michigan,” he said.

The amendment is a purely political action, House Democratic spokesman Dennis Denno said.

“It’s nothing but a power grab by Republicans who have failed miserably at winning education boards,” he said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.