July 28, 2007
Community college leaders to state: Hurry up!

Now that the possibility of a funding veto reversal has been floated, community college leaders hope that the state hurries up and acts, because they have budgets to plan.

[Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst has indicated that legislative budget leaders could meet as soon as September, but the delay may force many community colleges to make tough financial decisions, such as increases in tuition and property taxes and enrollment cutbacks.

Texas law requires the state's 50 community colleges to submit their annual budgets by Sept. 1.

"We can't wait," said A. Rodney Allbright, president of Alvin Community College. "Our budgets need to be done."

Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said community colleges can be assured of the money, and no immediate action is needed.

But some college leaders are skeptical after Gov. Rick Perry pulled the funding last month, saying the two-year schools overestimated how many employees were entitled to state-paid health benefits. College officials and many lawmakers have said they were blindsided by the veto, which represented 8 percent of the schools' state funds for the next two years.

Hard to blame them for being a bit skittish, isn't it? I wouldn't count any money until the check cleared, either.

And what will happen when these community colleges don't get the money they desperately need? Three guesses:

"The smaller the school, the smaller the tax base, the tougher it is to recover that money," said Myles Shelton, president of Galveston College. "Any institution with less than 6,000 students needs to look at this over two years."

Perry's veto will result in a loss of nearly $1 million for the 2,200-student college. Amid an enrollment slump, Shelton said he is reluctant to increase tuition and fees, leaving a property tax rate increase as the most likely remedy.

Meanwhile, Alvin Community College will open a $20 million health science building without new academic programs, such as physical and occupational therapy. The governor's veto represents a $1.6 million cut, which leaves no money to hire faculty members for the programs, Allbright said.

To close the gap, he said, the college would need to raise tuition by as much as 80 percent, to $54 per semester credit hour, or the tax rate by up to 18 percent.

So the Governor's shortsighted veto may result in higher property taxes for you. Isn't that nice? Remember, we already had the money to pay for this - as the Waco Trib notes, the comptroller had already certified the budget as being balanced. You won't get any of that $154 million that Perry red-lined back - it'll go into a pot of unallocated fund for the next biennium. But you'll pay for it with higher property taxes. Well done, Governor. Trib link via EOW.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 28, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo