With Republican Gov. Rick Snyder set to announce his budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Thursday, legislators and University officials are waiting to see how the budget will affect higher education amid a $1.8 billion statewide deficit.
Because the state faces the need to balance its budget, University and state officials said a decrease in higher education appropriations is expected. Though funding specifics are currently ambiguous, University administrators have plans in place to offset whatever budget cuts Snyder will propose.
Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, said she thinks there will be cuts across the board.
“We expect it to be a comprehensive budget that will not only look at the expenditures, but at the revenues,” she said.
Because the University has been anticipating some decrease in funding to higher education, Wilbanks said, it has been actively preparing for this outcome.
“I think, again, we expect that there will be some measure of shared sacrifice and impact,” she said.
According to Wilbanks, the University has been bracing for a decrease in state funding for several years.
“We have been looking ahead, knowing that there may be a time in the future — which is now — that we may have to face a pretty severe budget challenge,” she said. “We continue to press our case that support for the universities is important.”
For the current fiscal year, state universities received a 2.8-percent decrease in funding from the previous year.
State Rep. Chuck Moss (R–Birmingham), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he predicts all state expenditures, including higher education, will face budget cuts. As a result, universities might need to change their current structures.
“(State universities are) going to have to do what everybody else does — deliver their services faster, better and cheaper,” Moss said.
Though Moss said he expects universities will have to tighten their belts, he said higher education is “extremely important” to the state.
Moss also said he expects Snyder’s 2012 fiscal year budget proposal to focus on new tax plans.
“You’re also going to see (Snyder’s) tax proposal, which is probably going to eliminate a lot of tax credits,” Moss said. “It’s going to balance the budget without raising taxes.”
State Rep. Joan Bauer (D–Lansing), the Democratic vice chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, said that while most of her colleagues are expecting cuts, no one can really predict what’s going to be in Snyder’s proposal.
“We don’t know exactly what the governor is going to do,” Bauer said. “I think we all are anticipating some very major cuts.”
However, Bauer said appropriations to higher education will likely be reduced.
“I think (the cut) will be significant,” she said. “And by significant, I guess what I mean (is) anything beyond 5 percent.”
The decrease in higher education funding is troubling, Bauer said, as it will likely have an effect on costs for students.
“I think we should be prioritizing higher education,” she said. “I mean they’ve already been cutting and cutting, but then my fear is that tuition will sky rocket.”
State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) said budget cuts to higher education in recent years have placed a greater burden on students and families in their ability to afford a college education.
“Over the years, our support to (universities) has continually diminished, and what we’ve seen, as the state investment has decreased, the amount of money it takes from our students and parents in terms of tuition and fees has really gone up,” she said.
Warren said she is worried about possible budget cuts facing higher education, especially considering the growing role state universities and colleges play in revitalizing Michigan’s economy.
“I think higher education is one of the most critical factors in Michigan’s economic recovery,” Warren said. “I don’t see any path to a strong and vibrant economy for Michigan’s future without well-funded public education, particularly higher education.”