WC Hit Hard by Perry Budget Veto

June 21, 2007

Weatherford Democrat

Christin Coyne

Governor Rick Perry vetoed $154 million in health insurance appropriations for faculty and staff of community colleges in a line item veto in the state budget last Friday.

All 50 Texas community colleges will lose employee health insurance funding in 2009, though they will receive funding in 2008.

Weatherford College President Joe Birmingham said the veto means Weatherford College will not be receiving approximately $1.4 million in state funding it had been expecting.

The college now faces an overall decrease in state funding for the 2009 fiscal year when it had been expecting an increase of 3.4 percent over current funding.

A rider in the budget states that employees paid by school revenue other than funding from the state may not receive benefits paid for by state funding.

“Community colleges have violated this provision, using millions of state dollars annually to pay the benefits of non-state paid employees. To get money for these employees, community colleges falsified their appropriations requests,” Perry said in his explanation of the veto.

Birmingham called the statement insulting and disappointing.

“There is no way to describe that [statement] except as patently false. We really take issue on that,” Birmingham said.

Birmingham said Weatherford College will now face several options: Reducing programs and services, increasing tuition and fees far beyond the normal increase, increasing the property tax rate, or some combination. He said the college will not be considering action until next spring.

“We had no knowledge that it was even an issue,” Birmingham said of the veto.

“It’s very, very frustrating. I didn’t find out about it until after the fact,” Representative Phil King said. “It’s particularly frustrating because I had worked very hard with the Higher Education Committee and with Appropriations to try to get additional funding for Weatherford College and … compared to the other colleges they came out well.”

King said to his knowledge no one else knew before the fact, either.

Perry’s proposed budget would have appropriated approximately $205 million for community college health insurance funding.

“Sad thing is, there is really nothing we can really do about it at this point,” King said, because the governor has the authority to line item veto. “If we get called back into special session, we will absolutely file an appropriations rider to try to correct that. Otherwise, lawmakers will have to wait until the next legislative session, which begins in January 2009, to try to restore funding.

Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is on the Senate Finance Committee and is one of five senators on the Legislative Budget Board.

Deon Daugherty Allen, spokesperson for Duncan, said Duncan agrees with the governor that many community colleges did not report their numbers in compliance with the proportionality statute, but the Legislature has allowed them to do it for years. He did not see the veto coming, either.

Duncan does not like the governor’s statement because he believes 23 colleges are in compliance with the statute.

Weatherford College is on the list of schools Duncan believes are complying with the statute.

One possibility Duncan is looking into is having the Legislative Budget Board recommend the governor issue a budget execution order to restore funding to the colleges. The Legislature does not have to be in session for the board to meet.

Perry issued a budget execution order in 2005, which included $295 million for school textbooks.

Steven Johnson, spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said the administration has had a legitimate policy disagreement over the proportionality of funding for community colleges, but there have never been claims that the schools falsified information.

Community colleges have been filling out their Legislation Appropriation Requests (LARs) the same way for the past three or four budget cycles, Johnson said, and none of the governor’s concerns were mentioned when educational funding hearings were held last fall.

Each school fills out its own LAR and is a distinct entity when dealing with the state. Johnson said he does not know of any college that falsified information.