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Higher ed funding boost defeated

Rep. Ray Scott was realistic about the prospects for his higher education funding bill, but he told the House State Affairs Committee that he wanted to start “a conversation” about energy jobs and about college support.

Montage of Colorado colleges
From left, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Scott’s House Bill 13-1122 would have created a two-year tax holiday for new oil and gas wells. After that holiday ended, revenue from those wells – an estimated $76 million a year – would have gone to the College Opportunity Fund, one of the accounts used to fund state colleges and universities.

“I’m under no illusions why I’m sitting here in this committee,” said Scott, referring to the fact that State Affairs is considered the “kill committee” for bills that House majority leadership doesn’t like. Not only was the bill sponsored by a minority Republican, but it would have taken energy-impact funds away from city and county governments, a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol.

After half an hour of discussion the committee’s Democratic majority met Scott’s assumption and killed the bill on a 7-4 vote.

Scott, a Republican businessman from Grand Junction, had told the committee that he wanted to start a conversation about both creating more jobs in the energy industry and about higher education funding. “All of us understand higher education is going to have some funding shortages in the future.” He also joked that instead of being known as the “kill committee,” State Affairs should be known as the “idea committee” and a place to discuss concepts “that are not ready for prime time.” (Get more details about the bill in this legislative staff memo.)

Other college funding measures

State policymakers have been having a conversation about higher education’s funding woes for a long time, and this isn’t the first time that mineral and energy revenues have been discussed as a source for college funding.

And while Scott’s bill is off the table, other efforts to scrape together more cash for the state’s colleges and universities remain alive at the Capitol.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $30 million increase in state support of higher education for 2013-14. Current-year spending is about $513 million, plus $100 million for financial aid. Hickenlooper has suggested a $5 million increase for scholarships.

The legislative Joint Budget Committee, through Senate Bill 13-090, is proposing a $9.3 million mid-year boost for colleges. Several colleges lobbied that committee for the increase. The bill passed the House Monday and is on its way to the governor.

This Joint Budget Committee chart shows trends in and sources of Colorado higher education funding in recent years. <em>Click to enlarge</em>
This Joint Budget Committee chart shows trends in and sources of Colorado higher education funding in recent years. Click to enlarge

A Democratic bill to impose a permanent sales tax on cigarettes was amended – as the suggestion of Republicans – so that the additional revenues would flow to the College Opportunity Fund. That would raise an estimated $26.5 million in 2013-14. House Bill 13-1144 passed the House last week and is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans like Scott aren’t the only ones who have eyed energy revenues as a funding source for higher education. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter was a leading proponent of an unsuccessful 2008 ballot measure that would have increased mineral severance taxes to raise more than $320 million a year for college scholarships.

The Degree Dividend, a 2010 state report on the future of the higher education system, calculated that annual state support of $1.5 billion was needed to make the state system competitive with those in other states.

The report mentioned several possible tax increases that could be used to reach that level, including a 1 percent tax surcharge on mineral extraction that would raise $150 million a year.

Two more union bills bite the dust

The State Affairs Committee’s long afternoon of killing Republican-sponsored bills also included two measures that would have affected union membership and rights.

House Bill 13-1106, a “right to work” measure, would have banned employers from requiring employee membership in unions or the payment of union dues or any fees in lieu of dues.

House Bill 13-1107 would have prohibited collective bargaining by public employee groups, including teachers unions in local districts.

The committee action brings to five the total of such bills that have been defeated this session.

Unions, of course, are a political dividing line between Republicans and Democrats. Labor organizations, including the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are significant contributors to Democratic campaigns. Business groups that often back Republicans argue that right-to-work and similar laws foster economic development by attracting new businesses.

Related bills already killed in the Senate include Senate Bill 13-017, which would have allowed employees to join or resign from unions at any time; Senate Bill 13-024, a right-to-work measure, and Senate Bill 13-141, a variation of Senate Bill 13-017.

Senate Bill 13-168, yet another variation of the opt in/opt out idea, is pending in the Senate State Affairs Committee, the Senate’s “kill committee.”

Extracurricular bills move to the Senate

The full House Monday gave final approval to two measures primarily related to high school athletics.

House Bill 13-1047 would give school districts control over assignment of out-of-district students who want to participate in extracurricular activities – primarily athletics – that aren’t available in the students’ home districts.

House Bill 13-1095 would forbid districts from requiring home-schooled students to take classes as a condition for participating in some extracurricular activities, again such as athletics. Students could be required to take classes in cases where a class is formally tied to an activity, such as band.

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