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Flexibility for Higher Education Sought

By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Because higher education has been hit with the burden of state budget cuts, a bi-partisan commission comprised of lawmakers and community leaders wants to grant higher education greater flexibility in select areas.
Lawmakers expect higher education to feel the negative effects of budget cuts over the next several years. Higher education is the only large part of the state budget that isn’t protected by the constitution or the federal government, leading Gov. Bill Ritter last week to slash $145 million from the department in the proposed 2010-11 state budget.
Under a bill that was unanimously approved on Wednesday by the ideologically split Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission, higher education would have greater flexibility with giving out student aid, allowing more international students, and going through with some construction projects without getting approval from the state.
“It’s not the complete fix to higher ed, but it’s a step forward to help them try to find a way to do more with less,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, vice-chair of the commission.
University of Colorado Spokesman Ken McConnellogue said the bill would provide tools that could allow the university to operate more efficiently. He believes that not having to adhere to a state formula when giving out financial aid could help the university choose better recipients.
“(The greater flexibilities) by no means solves the big significant financial shortfalls we’re facing, but it helps us operate in a way that the taxpayers expect,” he said.

Report out today
The Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission will release their executive summary today on what kind of Colorado they want to see, how much it would cost, and how could it be funded. The report identifies how Amendment 23 ? which requires per-student funding for K-12 to be increased at a set rate each year ? and TABOR ? the controversial tax-and-spending cap ? are creating huge problems for the state.
Conservatives and other limited government advocates, however, have repeatedly defended TABOR. The Independence Institute, a Colorado libertarian think tank, said last month that the tax and spending limits have helped Colorado experience “one of the highest rates of economic growth in the nation.”
“With an effective tax and spending limit in place, Colorado has been able to lower tax burdens, creating one of the best business tax climates in the country,” the Independence Institute said in an Oct. 23 opinion column that ran in the Denver Daily News. (Editor’s note: The columns from the Independence Institute that run in the Denver Daily News represent their views and not necessarily those of the Denver Daily News.)
But a study from the University of Denver says that if nothing changes, Colorado in five-10 years will only be able to fund three departments.
Along with granting higher education facilities greater flexibility, commission chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, is sponsoring a resolution to request a tax study from the University of Denver. This is the first time Colorado has taken a look at its tax structure in 50 years.

Structural flaw with revenue stream?
Charles Brown, director of the DU Center for Colorado’s Economic Future, will be heading up the study.
He said over the summer that there is a structural flaw in the revenue system that supports much of Colorado’s state government.
“I’ve been an observer of the state budget for about 35 yearsÉand I can say with great confidence that this is the worst financial problem that I think the state has ever faced, certainly in my time,” he said in July.
The commission’s full report will be coming out later this month. McConnellogue, for one, is excited about what the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission is trying to do.
“They’re asking some of the questions that really get at the heart of the difficulties higher education faces in terms of the competing constitutional provisions out there,” he said. “They’re doing important work, and we feel like it’s going to have a significant impact on higher ed.”

Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters

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