With the passage of the state House of Representatives’ revised appropriations bill, a frenzy of debate has ensued on every level of government as to who will get what out of a state budget that is stretched all-too-thin.

The issue having moved now to the Senate, University President Mary Sue Coleman joined leaders of higher education in southeastern Michigan to testify on the importance of adequately funding the state’s universities to the Senate appropriations subcommittee on higher education.

“The irony of our situation is that we are facing increased demand, yet at the same time our productivity is increasing, we are being asked to cut back on our expenditures,” Coleman said. “We must be sure that we do not mortgage the future economy of our state and the future achievements of our children because of temporary constraints.”

Among the major arguments was the contention that the state’s universities will ultimately turn the state economy around.

“80 percent of EMU’s graduates remain in the State of Michigan to live, to work, and to provide a return on the state’s investment in them,” Eastern Michigan University President Samuel Kirkpatrick said. “Our public universities are the key to change in Michigan and to its new economy. The earnings premium alone that comes to EMU’s graduates is worth $1.5 billion annually and has the potential of increasing state revenues by $60 million annually. This requires a sustained investment in human talent.”

“EMU’s total impact on the Michigan economy of $2.8 billion for the 2002 fiscal year reflects a return of $30 for each dollar received from the state,” he added.

Possibly the largest area of debate among lawmakers has been over the “four tier” system of cuts, which places the state’s 15 universities into four different categories where they receive funding based on factors such as enrollment size and per- student funding. This particular system of ‘differential’ cuts is used almost exclusively for higher education.

“I am by no means in favor of differential cuts beyond this bill,” said Rep. David Farhat (R-Muskegon), vice chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on higher education. “It wasn’t like we had a lot of money that we were just handing out to those few universities. We had a small amount of money that was shared between those six universities in their respective tiers.”

“If there is one thing that is clear from this whole process is that it is flawed,” he added.

Many complaints have also arisen from Democrats that the legislature has not followed through with its cross-party claims of taking a non-partisan approach to the budget cuts.

“My caucus and I passed on that vote,” said Rep. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), minority vice-chair of the house appropriations committee. “My caucus and I were unhappy with the process because we didn’t get much of a chance for input.”

“While people are talking about working together, it’s been a very tenuous process. I am optimistic that pretty quickly we will roll up our sleeves and hammer out a mutually acceptable budget,” she added.

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