Desk pounding, gay rights, college v. golf and Medicaid expansion on “Capitol Talk”

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALLTonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about lawmakers agreeing not to pound on their desks again, passionate debate on a bill to repeal a statute that criminalized gay sex, the fight over the new Missoula College, and new proposals for Medicaid expansion…

Appropriations Committee taking up University System Budget

The House Appropriations Committee is starting up its budget talks on the education portion of House Bill 2 on Friday. HB 2 is the official name for the state’s general fund budget bill.

The Montana Board of Regents is meeting in Helena this week and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian briefed the board Thursday on legislative proceedings.

Commissioner Christian says he feels pretty good about the Montana University System budget ‘piece’ that has made its way to the full budget committee after first being approved by an education budget subcommittee. Although, he says “obviously there are some things on our list that didn’t get moved out (of the subcommittee) that he wished would have,” citing funding for new universal enrollment software and money for new campus veterans services.

Those two items are part of a list of over 15 amendments proposed to HB 2 asking for more education funds. Amendments to the budget will be discussed next week in committee. Christian says no amendments have been proposed to remove money from what’s allocated to the University already.

A top goal of the board of regents this budget cycle is to freeze tuition for the next two years for in-state students.The Regents have passed a resolution saying they will do that if the Legislature does two big things:

  • Approve extra money included in the budget to pay for the cost of inflation.
  • Approve pay increases for state employees, which includes the University System.

Christian says both of those two things seems to be moving forward, although he acknowledges there’s is still a lot of discussion left to go–especially on state employee pay.

The University System is also hoping for the passage of a major bonding bill which would allocate $100 million for building projects, mostly on state colleges.

Montana University System considers making some funding ‘performance-based’

mus-logo (1)State higher education leaders are in talks with the  Governor’s office and the Montana Legislature to make some new funding for state universities performance-based.

The Montana University System is asking for $30 million in new funds from the Legislature to freeze tuition for the next two years. Legislators can essentially only decide whether or not to give MUS that money–they cannot dictate how it is to be spent; that’s under the purview of the Board of Regents.

However, lawmakers can certainly suggest how they would like to see the money spent. Senator Taylor Brown (R-Huntley) says he is introducing a joint resolution which would request the University System distribute five percent of their budget based on certain performance measures like graduation and retention rates and how long it’s taking students to get degrees. “These are standard measures that are in line with many organizations that compare universities across the nation,” he said.

Brown and other lawmakers are working with the Governor’s Office and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education on the proposal. Commissioner Clayton Christian says he likes the idea. ““In the future, to be competitive globally, whether it’s in agriculture or you name the market we need more people with a degree,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeking to do and I think this pushes us in that direction.”

The performance-based funds would come out of the $30 million in new money requested by MUS for the next two year budget cycle. Christian says the plan would only be implemented in the second year of that cycle, to give the colleges and universities time to figure out exactly how the system would work. The total amount of the performance-based money comes out to $7.5 million–five percent of the total MUS budget with the added $30 million.

That extra $30 million is still subject to Legislative approval.