Brinksmanship Over Higher Education Funding

A risky game of chicken playing out as the Joint Budget Committee tries to hammer out more revenue-mandated cuts to the budget, the Denver Post reports:

If Colorado sheds $300 million from its higher education budget, the state could forgo up to $105 million in federal stimulus money – a double whammy that alarmed college presidents said would force them to boost tuition, cap enrollment and dramatically pare programs.

The $300 million cut proposed Wednesday by the Joint Budget Committee would slash the state’s higher education budget next year by more than half.

Because the feds are requiring states to maintain funding levels from the 2005-06 school year, Colorado could miss out on tens of millions of dollars.

Higher education officials vowed Thursday that they would apply for a waiver to get the stimulus money if their funding dropped too far…

Wednesday’s proposed cuts are part of a last-minute effort – deemed “a very young discussion” by the governor – by budget-writing lawmakers to pit higher education against a quasi-public agency that guarantees workers’ compensation insurance.

Lawmakers would prefer that Pinnacol Assurance give up $500 million and are using the threat of higher ed cuts to force the agency’s hand.

It boils down to a move to force the state’s semipublic workman’s-comp insurer of last resort, Pinnacol Assurance, to transfer assets the JBC considers superfluous to its mandate in order to balance the budget. We’d say if that’s true it ought to be considered, but there seems to be some debate on this question–and either way, threatening cuts that would force 30% tuition increases and other devastating changes at Colorado public colleges is as close to a scorched-earth ultimatum as can be delivered. Better win that poker game, eh?

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  1. redstateblues says:

    if A-B reform passes?

    • adam.kretz says:

      SB-228 doesn’t increase revenue for the current year. A-B reform would allow them to recuperate these cuts eventually, but it won’t hedge against the $300 Million cut and its impact this and next fiscal year.

      • Awen says:

        closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped. The higher ed budget MAY recoup some of that $300 million eventually, but the astronomical tuition increases won’t be taken back, and several members of the JBC say if this cut goes through there will be colleges closing – most likely in rural areas first. Community colleges rely on general fund dollars for 50 percent of their funding; a 50 percent cut means you close some of them; they just can’t survive otherwise.

        • redstateblues says:

          Community colleges going to be getting money from legalized high stakes gambling in Blackhawk and Central City soon? When that starts this summer, it’s going to be giving some serious coin to them, so I don’t know if they’re in mortal danger.

          Universities, however, with their bloated bureaucracies, are in danger of getting the shaft when out-of-state enrollment starts to freefall after they raise tuition even more. Even in-state kids will have to start thinking about either going to school part-time, or maybe even a CC or JC if they have to work 15-20 hours more a week purely to pay tuition.

          • Doppleganger says:

            even though they may have bureaucracies their revenues generally support them.  

            The satellite schools, regional and CCs are heavily defendant on GF revenues.

            In many ways the tuition at Metro is the most important tuition since it is the school for the retraining worker and the traditional student most likely not to go to college if tuition increases.

            I am interested to see what tuition increases look like at these schools.

          • bhusher says:

            As far as I understand, that money won’t begin to be generated until after July 1 and won’t be part of the equation until fiscal year 2010-2011. They may be forced to wait a whole year for the revenue.

          • MADCO says:

            means $405 million hit?

            No way the increase from the gambling thing makes that up. Likewise- the hit to the research universities will be large.

            And even though we succeeded in “wrongfully terminating” Churchill – it won’t be enough to establish or re-establish the rep.

            We can cut higher ed- but as long as we build some more roads and bridges we’ll all be fine.

  2. bhusher says:

    I don’t know what the JBC is doing. They are placing their bets on several things that haven’t even been established yet.

    1. If SB228 does not pass and A-B is not repealed, this will be a PERMANENT ratchet on the quality of higher education in Colorado. By the way, we are already dead last in the nation in funding before the cuts.

    2. The Pinnacol grab will be heavily contested and may not even be legal. Last time I checked, it hadn’t even passed yet. Even so, it is a one-time deal. What happens next year and the next?

    What will happen is tuition will go up, more jobs will be lost, and kids will choose to go elsewhere or not go to school. It is likely that smaller schools will be forced to close, leaving large regions of the state with little access to education beyond high school. Imagine the repercussions.

    This will have devastating effects on the state’s economy in both the short and long term. This may sound bad, but I think the legislature should stop pretending they can keep our citizens from feeling the effects of our tax/collection policies combined with the recession. They need to make cuts that most Coloradans will notice. While not all Coloradans directly depend on funding of education, health care and other state programs, we all use roads and depend on public safety programs. Without popular approval, funding will never be there as long as TABOR rules the state  . . . . unless we assess more fees.

    • BlueCat says:

      Many legislators are having a very hard time with this.  They just feel that the tangled web we’ve woven for them with TABOR etc, leaves them few options.  Most, if not all, would much rather not have to resort to these tactics.

      • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

        A society that does not invest sufficiently in education is one that is going to fall behind the rest of the world.

        • bhusher says:

          I wonder if this would infuriate Colorado voters enough that they would vote to repeal TABOR.

          I’m doubtful, especially if you look at the lack of willingness to help out K-12 schools (the failure rate of the school board bond and budget elections around the state last fall).  

          • redstateblues says:

            to properly fund schools? It should infuriate them enough to approve a tax increase.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for repealing TABOR, but you can still fix things with it in place. You just have to sell it to people.

            • bhusher says:

              In order to sell it to them, you have to spend thousands and sometimes MILLIONS. On top of that, you have to do it every time you need any increase AND for every different area of expenditure within the public sector. This money could go to much better use elsewhere.

              There is a reason why no other state has passed TABOR in the past 16 1/2 years since we did; it ties the hands of those we elect to take care of the state.  

              • redstateblues says:

                but your first argument is not very compelling. You’d be better off trying to get campaign finance reform for amendments and referenda if you’re worried about the cost of running a ballot issue campaign.

                I think that repealing the aspect of TABOR that gives the voters the ultimate decision would be a much harder sell than getting individual increases.

                In fact, it would probably be one of the most challenging subjects to tackle in Colorado politics. You could run that campaign every year and it might not pass–while wasting millions in the process. A tax increase for higher ed funding, however, if done properly, stands a much greater chance of succeeding.

                • LakewoodDem says:

                  I think it took at least three tries for Bruce to get something passed.  He kept coming back again and again.

                  Colorado Citizens passed it once in ’92 and have voted against it well over 90% of the time since on local de-Brucing elections.

                  • droll says:

                    for the right to vote on tax increases.  The budget implications mean nothing unless it’s happening in your neighborhood alone.  Statewide, politicians just want to get their hands on your money.

                    It’s not going away anytime soon.  If we’re spending millions, isn’t it better to get a win and keep some colleges open?

                    Unless we’re talking about fixing TABOR (as much as we can), no one ever does.

          • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

            I think the reason voters are unwilling to give schools more money is that they do such a crappy job with the money they have. And there is no corelation between more money and improved education.

            I think step one is the schools have to do a better job and start fixing the systemic problems they have ignored forever. (And yes, ironclad job protection is a big problem, but by no means the only large problem.)

            Funding is an excuse for poor performance, not the cause.

            • redstateblues says:

              of where colleges and universities that are funded by the state are doing a crappy job?

              The JBC cut the budget by $300 million, we’re not talking about rewarding mediocrity (even though I don’t think they’re doing nearly as bad of a job as you do) we’re just talking about finding a way to get the $300 million back.

              Personally, I think colleges and universities, on the whole, spend their money much more wisely than government projects like Fastraks.

              • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

                With that said though, I do think C.U. has a lot more overhead than necessary and wastes a ton of time, effort, and money on football and avoidable messes like Churchill.

                But all in all the Higher Ed system in this country is the best in the world.

                • MADCO says:

                  Let’s just zero higher ed funding.

                  Students can go out of state or pay private tuition. We can give the UC system and CSU and the rest of the state schools their infrastructure and call it good.   Some will survive- those that the free market rewards.

                   

                  • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

                    Just roll higher ed into the K-12 funding – and cover 100% for state schools.

                    • MADCO says:

                      not for “out of state”, undocumented or illegals, not for felons, not for D voters, not for drug users, etc.

                      It should be pre-K college (P-16).

                      And the should include all day kindergarten and 210 day school year- then it wouldn’t have to go to 16m since mose baccalaureate work would start by 9th or 10th grade.

                      Never happen- though it should.

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