January 23, 2009
Beware Lt. Govs bearing gifts

On the surface, hearing that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst now favors tuition re-regulation sounds like a good thing. A lot of people, Democrats especially, have been screaming about this for months. But as always, the devil is in the details.

Facing a major state budget shortfall in 2003, Dewhurst got behind a fiscal rescue package that triggered a 53 percent increase in tuition and fees at Texas universities.

But now Dewhurst and many legislators who favored that tuition "deregulation" bill believe it's time to once again regulate the rates students and families pay.

"We just can't afford to price out deserving young people going to college," Dewhurst, Republican leader of the Texas Senate, told reporters. "I think there is so much built up pressure that there's a likelihood that a bill will come out of the Senate putting some cap (on tuition)."

Dewhurst said a consensus is building in the Legislature to limit tuition increases, but a method is still being worked out. He said discussions have included a two-year moratorium on hikes, limiting increases to 5 percent a year or tying rising tuition to inflation.


While the idea of college affordability has broad appeal among lawmakers, some warn it could spark potentially devastating cuts at universities and reduce the value of a degree from Texas public colleges. Opponents of regulating tuition say the state shouldn't force universities to lower tuition without offsetting the resulting loss in revenue.

Dewhurst did not spell out how much state funding he envisioned for higher education. However, he warned that with a declining economy, there would not be as much money available as in 2005 and 2007 sessions.

The reason that tuition was deregulated in 2003 was so that the public universities could get by with less state funding. They made up for that shortfall by jacking up the cost to the students. If their ability to set tuition rates is then capped - as I believe it should be - they need a commensurate increase in state funds, or else it's the worst of both worlds. I want to see costs under control for students and their families, but what we have now would be better than re-regulated tuition with the same funding levels as before. Let's not fall for a trap here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 23, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo
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