- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Aggregate funding for Michigan’s public universities in the next state budget will still be less than it was before a major cut five years ago, despite Gov. Rick Snyder’s initial proposal to bring them back to levels in place when he took office in 2011.

Spending will rise roughly $40 million to $1.4 billion, a 2.9 percent increase, under a spending plan up for final legislative votes this week. The Republican governor and lawmakers had hoped for a $60 million, or 4.4 percent, boost.

More than a third of the 15 state universities - Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Western, Eastern and Oakland - will receive less in the next budget than in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That was the year Snyder took office and subsequently cut state aid by 15 percent following years of reductions during Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s tenure.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel lamented that his school is receiving the same as what it did 20 years ago despite rising inflationary costs and higher enrollment.

“The governor does have an honest commitment … But every year it seems that the end game, as the state tries to develop its final budget, higher ed seems to be one of the fungible things,” he told The Associated Press while attending the Mackinac Policy Conference. “If you have a commitment to something … you have to invest in it. It has to be a priority, not something that you do at the end with the resources that remain available.”

The higher education budget is among various areas getting less of a funding hike than initially planned. Snyder and Republican legislative leaders recently scaled back their spending plans by $460 million after receiving revised estimates for tax money and Medicaid caseloads.

“It is still an increase,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said. “Universities will receive more state funding than they did last year, and the governor remains committed to restoring to ‘10-11 levels in a future budget cycle.”

A report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, a national research group, says all states’ spending on higher education is still at a historic low, even after their recovery from the Great Recession. Medicaid spending in particular spiked over time as university aid declined in the states.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon said that, unlike in other states, Michigan does not provide funds to upgrade older university buildings. It does partially finance new construction projects.

“All of us are now essentially responsible for all of our deferred maintenance. So that adds to the burden,” Simon said. “We plan on being there for a very long time and not simply letting facilities decay.”

Under a bill approved last week by a House-Senate conference committee, universities will not qualify for all their state funding unless they keep tuition and fee hikes to no more than 4.2 percent. The plan also punishes Eastern and Oakland for raising tuition and fees above last year’s “restraint cap,” taking $400,000 each that would have gone to the schools and splitting it among the four others whose funding is below 2011 levels.

Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, criticized the penalties as unfair since those universities already relinquished a portion of funding when instituting large tuition and fee increases last summer. Not ensuring every school receives more funds in the next fiscal year than received in 2011 is a “failure of this budget,” he said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, said the penalties for Eastern and Oakland may be reconsidered before final passage of the budget. But he defended the nearly 3 percent overall higher ed funding boost.

“They’re still getting a decent increase is the way I look at it,” Hildenbrand said.

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Online:

Senate Bill 790: https://1.usa.gov/25EYckk

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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