The University of Michigan and other public colleges across the state could be facing funding cuts if a bill passed last week in the Senate Appropriations Committee makes its way through the Michigan legislature.

A Republican-sponsored bill passed in the state Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday aims to reduce Michigan’s budget deficit by cutting state aid to all Michigan universities and community colleges by 3.1 percent. This would result in about $10.2 million in lost state aid for the University in the next fiscal year.

If passed, the budget would go into effect Oct. 1, 2010.

With state politicians desperately seeking ways to bring Michigan’s budget back into balance, some senators said they feel that a cut in education funding is unavoidable.

“We are in a box with our budget, so we reduced it,” State Sen. Ron Jelinek (R–Three Oaks), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in an interview. “We have tried other government proposed income revenue streams like taxes, but that is something people won’t accept in this economy.”

State Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) said she recognizes the need to balance Michigan’s budget, especially considering the nearly $1 billion budget deficit the state government is facing. But she added that cuts to funding for higher education aren’t the best way to balance the budget and could be potentially detrimental to the future of Michigan’s economy.

“It’s a 3-percent cut for all universities and colleges in the state, including the University of Michigan, which is an unacceptable level of cuts,” Brater said. “It’s the wrong direction to be going if we want to diversify our economy. We have to put more money in higher education, not less.”

However, Jelinek said the cuts in aid were minimal in the greater context of the state’s budget.

“Education is a priority, and the cuts we made have been quite small in comparison to other cuts,” he said.

Included in the bill is a provision, known as the Tuition Grant Program, that would restore $31 million in tuition grants to students attending private colleges in Michigan.

“Basically the bill puts about $30 million back in that budget and cuts a total of $42 million from the public colleges and universities,” Brater said. “So basically they’ll transfer money out of the public colleges and universities to the private.”

But according to Jelinek, “that is the only support we give to private colleges.”

The bill will go to the Senate floor this week and, if passed, will move on to the House.

Brater said she thinks the bill will pass in the Senate but is unsure if it will pass in the House.

“The Republicans that control the committee also control the Senate floor, so they’ll have a majority to pass it, but it has to go through both houses so we’ll have some negotiation,” she said.

For now though, Michigan’s public universities are preparing for cuts in aid and are planning accordingly.

Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for Government Relations, said the University has been fighting hard to reduce the cuts and maintain the level of aid that the University currently receives from the state.

“We have testified in front of the Senate about the need for funds,” she said. “We need the investment in higher education for the economic future of the state and for our ability to provide a high-quality education for our students.”

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