2013 Legislature - MUS Information and Resources

MUS Weekly Update

March 29, 2013

Legislative activity speeds up in the session’s final phase 

    State funding for higher education appears to be in good shape heading into the fourth quarter of the 63rd Assembly of the Montana Legislature. Major funding issues now move from the House of Representatives over to the Senate, before the final budget is set through negotiations between the Senate, the House, and the Governor.

    Montana University System (MUS) efforts in the final weeks of the session will focus on preserving solid levels of funding on a number of fronts. Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said the university system has a productive working relationship with legislators from both parties, from both houses, from first-term legislators to senior legislators who are serving their last term.

    “The level of interest and support for higher education in the Legislature is really impressive,” Christian said. “Each representative and each senator on our budget subcommittee and in the appropriations process has worked hard to stretch dollars to meet the needs of students.”

    The MUS will give budget presentations to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee next week, as soon as legislators return from an extended Easter break. Typically, budget differences between the Senate and the House end up being reconciled in a late-session conference committee, with representatives of the Governor’s office close to the action.

    The MUS lobbying team will provide updates when substantial developments occur in the final flurry of the session. Every session accelerates like the typical football season once described at a press conference by retired Montana Tech Coach Bob Green: “It’s like a roll of toilet paper – the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!”

    Here is a brief look at major items the MUS is working on daily:
    • College Affordability Plan (CAP).
      The CAP would freeze tuition for two years and tie some state funding to institutional production of degrees and completions – if the MUS receives new funding for inflationary costs plus adequate funding for faculty and staff pay raises. The CAP hinges on House Bill 2, the state general fund appropriation act, and House Bill 13, the state employee pay plan. House Bill 2 currently would increase campus funding, from a Fiscal Year 2012 base of $151 million, to a new base of $164 million next year and $166 million the following year. House Bill 13 emerged from the House with necessary funding to preserve the CAP and now moves to the Senate. The pay bill originally envisioned pay raises of 5 percent each year but was reduced substantially in the House. The MUS will keep advocating for a pay appropriation on the Senate side of the statehouse.


    • Long-Range Building Projects.
      Until this week, the legislation carrying major construction projects for the university system was House Bill 14, a bonding bill. This week, the House moved the projects over to House Bill 5, a cash bill. The state funding level is still the same, nearly $75 million, but the threshold to secure legislative approval is lower. A bonding bill such as House Bill 14 would have required a two-thirds majority approval because the issuance of bonds incurs state debt. A cash bill such as House Bill 5 requires a simple majority because debt is not incurred.

    • Guns on campus.
      House Bill 240 would direct the Board of Regents to allow students and members of the public to carry firearms on campus in a manner that is otherwise lawful and permissible off campus (e.g., by concealed-carry permit holders). The bill passed the House and was approved by the Senate Education Committee. It moves next to the floor of the full Senate. The MUS is a staunch opponent of House Bill 240. Legislative staff attorneys have noted potential constitutional problems with the bill.


    A topic unrelated to legislation, but of interest to some legislators, has been the university system’s consideration to purchase research rights on state-owned property in north central Montana along the Milk River. Late last year, the MUS came into an opportunity to purchase the archaeological and paleontological research rights for $2 million, while the value was appraised at substantially greater than $2 million.

    A private party filed a lawsuit in December 2012 seeking to block the MUS from spending funds on the purchase. The commissioner announced at the March 2013 Board of Regents meeting that the university system will not pursue the purchase because it is not a top priority for expenditure of MUS funds. On March 26, the MUS received notice that state District Judge Holly Brown had dismissed the lawsuit against the MUS.

     

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