Michigan House panel trims higher ed budget plan

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Five universities would remain below 2011 funding levels under a preliminary college and university budget a House panel approved Thursday that is $9 million below Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommendation.

The budget could change again when the full House and Senate consider it. But the panel’s move signals more resistance from House Republicans who have trimmed millions of dollars from the fellow GOP governor’s proposed budget to prove the state would have enough money to pay for an income tax cut.

Democrats have opposed the move.

Supporters boasted when Snyder unveiled his 2018 budget that the state’s 15 universities would collectively be restored to pre-2011 levels. Universities endured substantial cuts that year under the first budget Snyder signed as governor.

Snyder’s recommendation still would have left four universities with less state money than before the 2011 reductions. The House panel approved a budget that would add one more university to that list, potentially leaving five with less total funding than in 2011: Michigan State University, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University.

Supporters tout that the panel-approved budget would be an overall $26 million increase, or a 1.9 percent bump. But a group that lobbies for more state university funding says it is still not enough to make amends for past budgets.

Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said the House committe members have “a genuine interest” in increasing university funding, but the political situation may have constrained them.

Given the cuts to other areas of Snyder’s proposed budget, Hurley said he thinks higher education could have fared worse.

“We are way under-invested as a state in higher education, and much more needs to be done to ensure college affordability going forward,” he said. “But at the same time, given the dynamics here in Lansing, especially as it involves calls for spending reductions by key leaders in the house, I think higher education is poised comparatively well.”

Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, abstained from the House panel vote Thursday because he wanted to vote for Snyder’s plan.

“I couldn’t support it because I wanted to see the governor’s recommendation adopted, and frankly, I don’t think the governor’s recommendation even went far enough itself,” Rabhi said. “We have been severely underfunding our public education system for decades now.”