Higher education earned a welcome reprieve this week when lawmakers looked elsewhere to make the required $300 million in cuts to the coming budget. The breathing room keeps colleges and universities at the same funding level as this year - still not enough to grow the programs as much as they warrant but far better than the dramatic cuts they potentially faced.
Lawmakers showed their commitment to prioritizing higher education when piecing together a budget that forces the necessary budget cuts elsewhere - including onto state employees, K-12 education, health care and some special project funds. It certainly is not a budget without pain, but spares the state's colleges and universities from what could have been a devastating financial hit.
The institutions had suffered greatly under Taxpayer's Bill of Rights restrictions that, combined with difficult budget years earlier in the decade, limited funding to dire levels. Referendum C helped the schools recover somewhat from those difficult years, but not sufficiently to elevate Colorado's higher education funding ranking to anywhere near respectable levels compared with other states.
Sparing the schools from $300 million in cuts next budget year was an important demonstration of commitment to growing the state's educational resources.
There are few, if any, areas that will experience budgetary growth in the 2010 budget, and the best that can be hoped for in most cases is a holding pattern at current levels. By protecting higher education accordingly, the state Legislature sent a strong message that will pay dividends for Colorado's colleges and universities. It was the right thing to do, however challenging.