BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers approved a budget Tuesday for Idaho's public universities that would increase state support by $18.1 million in 2013 while boosting the pay of state employees who for the most part, have not had a raise in four years.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee crafted a spending plan for higher education that includes $446.3 million in total funding in the next fiscal year, up from $396.7 million this year. The budget includes $227.9 million in state general funds, up 8.6 percent from this year, when state support for higher education was cut to its lowest level in more than a decade.
The increased budget for next year would bring state support for higher education up to levels set in 2006, when Idaho spent $228.9 million in general funding on Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.
Legislative budget writers also increased state support for Idaho's three community colleges, to the tune of $4.7 million. The funding includes $1.4 million to cover requests from the colleges for building expenses. That should lessen the need for the colleges to hike tuition and fees for students, said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson.
"They got fully funded on their occupancy costs and higher ed did not," Brackett said after the hearing.
Idaho's universities submitted $4.8 million in requests to cover building expenses. Lawmakers approved about $2.4 million, saying some of the projects that were submitted did not fall within their guidelines for funding occupancy costs.
"There were some that dropped off because they just didn't fit the policy," said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.
The money will go toward buildings that include a nursing and health science facility at Lewis-Clark State College, a center for environmental science at Boise State University, a cadaver lab at Idaho State University's campus in Meridian, and a University of Idaho research park in Post Falls.
A motion spearheaded by Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, would have given the schools $3.4 million for occupancy costs, but that proposal failed to muster enough support.
The budgets for the universities and community colleges still need approval from lawmakers in the House and Senate.
Both spending plans include the 2 percent salary increase for employees.
University of Idaho President Duane Nellis told lawmakers last month that boosting compensation was his highest priority, saying the Moscow campus was starting to lose key faculty members as salaries remain stagnant during the past four years.
"I just can't emphasize enough how we need some indication of support there," Nellis told legislative budget writers in late January.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has approved a 2 percent, across-the-board raise for state workers meeting performance standards. The committee is now building that increase into budgets for state agencies.