Jan 22, 2013 5:54 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)
HELENA - The leaders of the Montana University System are asking the state Legislature for enough funding to be able to freeze tuition for another two years.
Montana State University president Waded Cruzado and University of Montana president Royce Engstrom are both presenting their budget requests to the education subcommittee this week.
They hope they can secure enough funding so the universities can keep tuition flat.
Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian is asking lawmakers to also fund inflationary increases and pass pay raises for university employees.
"We need to make sure we convey to you all over the next few days the importance and the relevance of education. And ultimately what it means to have an affordable, and that's a key word, affordable, strong higher education system in the state, both for the citizens that participate in it and their families," Christian told lawmakers.
He added, "The truth is that Montana has been very prudent and we have resisted tuition increases better than anyone in the country, and that's something we are very proud of. We hope we are earning the trust of this committee to know that if you can find a way to help fund us, we will be prudent with those dollars and we will make sure that Montana families don't have to pay more in tuition."
However, for lawmakers the decision comes down to dollars, and Republicans on the Education Budget Committee reminded university leaders that money from coal, oil, and gas help fund the university system.
MT State Senator Llew Jones (R-Conrad) said, "Obviously we have to balance the investment with the taxpayers' ability to pay. We have to have a concept of what the underlying economy is that does pay for it.
MT State Representative Roy Hollandsworth (R-Brady) said, "I guess what I'm saying to the education community is that you have to help us lead the fight to protect the natural resources that's going on.
Over the next week lawmakers will go through the university budget line by line in order to send a comprehensive package to the floor for a vote.
The education budget subcommittee will draft a budget and send it to the full Legislature for a full vote.