Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education, at their May meeting in Havre May 29, discussed very preliminary figures in their next budget proposal, including what at the moment is a more than $57 million request for additional state funding a number that could change substantially before the process is over, Regent Stephen Barrett said. “I want to emphasize that we view this as a work in progress,” said Barrett, the chair of the Regent’s Administrative, Budget and Oversight Committee. The committee approved moving the proposed budget to a discussion of the full board May 30. The budget, discussed during the committee’s report to the board, includes a planned increase in tuition for out-of-state students. It could include an increase for in-state students as well. “The potential exists that those are part of the discussion ,” Barrett said in response to a question from Jan Lombardi, education policy advisor for Gov. Brian Schweitzer. “It’s in the discusssion but it’s not at the decision point yet.” Barrett said whether tuition will need to be increased will depend on the final amount of the budget and how much the state will be able to provide to fund that budget. Mick Robinson, associate commissioner for fiscal affairs for the Montana University System, said the amount in the budget discussion has already been reduced from the original amounts requested by units of the university system. “The list came back in January and it has significantly dropped as it moved forward,” he said. Barrett said the last Legislature made significant investments in the university system, including paying for a temporary tuition freeze and making one-time investments in projects throughout the system. The next session is likely to have fewer funds available, he said. “What we have heard from the administration and the Legislature is that this will be a leaner year than last session,” he said. Barrett said the university budgeting project has become much more of a collaborative and cooperative process in the last two years. Prior to that, the regents generally drafted a budget and submitted it to the governor’s office. Then the process began to determine which of the university system’s requests would be funded. “It would turn into a tug-of-war with the administration and the Legislature as to what those numbers would be,” Barrett said. Starting two years ago, Barrett said, the regents have worked closely with the governor’s office in developing the budget and adjusting the request based on what funds are expected to be available in the next biennium. The initial revenue projections won’t be available until June, he said. Barrett said that as the committee works with the governor’s office, especially next month as revenue projections become available, many of the items listed in the tentative budget could change. “We wanted to present the spectrum of what is being considered,” he said.