Emmer's political calculation is that by leaving K-12 education alone (and acting like the nearly $2 billion that Tim Pawlenty "borrowed" from school can be deferred for years) he can hack away at other categories in the budget. Health and Human Services, the second largest and fastest growing budget category, suffered the greatest dollar cuts (and yes, they are cuts no matter how much Emmer insists otherwise.) But Higher Education and Local Government Aid came in for devastating cuts that no rhetorical sleight of hand can dismiss.
If Emmer's budget were to become law, public higher education in Minnesota would be transformed forever. And I do not mean transformed in a good way. It will become increasingly unaffordable and force a contraction in capacity at the very moment that students are flocking to retrain and retool. Higher education is an engine of economic development in a state that badly needs it. To slash away is more than short-sighted, it's criminally negligent.
If Emmer's budget were to become law, Minnesota's tuition rates would skyrocket. They would be the highest in the country or very near the top. Emmer's proposal to cut higher education would reduce the state appropriation to $2.5 billion. That's a $312 million cut. But wait, it gets worse.
For the purposes of clarity, consider how this might impact the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Under the current two-year budget, MnSCU received $1.129 billion from state appropriations, approximately 43% of the overall higher education budget of $2.812 billion. That means MnSCU's share of the cut would be about $134 million. That cut will come on top of the expiration of stimulus funds representing another $79 million. That's a cut of over $213 million for FY 2012-3, or a cut of $107 million per year. In percentage terms, this is a cut of 17.6% from MnSCU's FY2011 budget.
While it's hard to predict exact impacts, consider what was said last year:
MnSCU's chief financial officer, Laura King, said in the case of a 20 percent budget cut, her system would prefer to implement a series of fixes. King said they would include layoffs, higher tuition, enrollment caps and potentially closing some of MnSCU's 54 campus across the state.
"Whether it's higher tuition, enrollment caps, fewer course offerings, or reduced student services, our students will see those impacts," King said.
King also said that if they took only one approach, they could offset the cut by closing as many as 18 community colleges.
That's right - you'd have to close almost 18 community colleges to fix Emmer's gaping hole. Don't worry, maybe it won't be the one in your community.
Welcome to Tom Emmer's Minnesota. Let's hope people are paying attention.
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