Monday, March 3, 2014

Legislative Update

Good afternoon everyone.

As many of you know, I spent the week of February 17 with Mark Kitchen in Cheyenne at the legislature. The Wyoming  Community College Presidents split up the session with each of us taking a week. What you may not know is that at the end of the week I left Cheyenne and  traveled to Pinedale to watch my son compete in the state hockey tournament - a short little 1,100 mile round trip.

Going into the week I was confident that my previous experience in Montana had prepared me well for what I needed to do. What I didn’t count on was that what took 90 days in Montana was accomplished in two weeks in Wyoming! It made me really admire our legislators for all the time they put in to represent us so well. I sure appreciated all of Mark Kitchen’s experience and guidance. I not only enjoyed spending time with him, but also enjoyed seeing firsthand the respect he has in the halls of the capitol.

The Legislature’s 2014-15 and 2015-16 biennial budget was agreed to last week by a 10-member conference committee empaneled to iron out House and Senate differences in appropriation amounts. The budget is expected to go to Governor Mead first of this week for his consideration.

Here are a few areas of the budget the CCs worked hard to advance and monitor during the legislative process:

Enrollment growth funding

Enrollment growth funding is where we spent the most time at legislature. CCs sought $14.3M over next two years to assist with statewide enrollment growth since the 2004-05 benchmark year. This funding was not included in the Governor’s budget recommendation to JAC, but JAC added $9M which went forward to House and Senate. Both chambers approved an amendment on second reading to add back an additional $5.3M (9+5.3=14.3).

A third-reading amendment that would have removed the additional $5.3M was defeated in the House—whew! Barring something wildly unforeseen in the Governor’s approval process, CCs will end session with $14.3M in enrollment growth funding—about $7.5M next year and a like amount the following year.

Distribution of these funds will be according to course completion volumes. There is specific language in the bill that we are working on figuring out how it will impact Northwest College. Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that this funding is one time—not carried forward into future biennia. Unfortunately we were not able to get this funding into our standard budget as we had requested. We will need to mount efforts to retain it in future sessions. There was some discussion that WCCC’s funding formula may be the topic of an interim legislative study; we’ll know more on that later.

Salary increases

As you know, 2% salary increases were recommended in the Governor’s Budget and approved by JAC. The modest increase remained in the budget and will be included in what the legislature forwards to the governor for approval. While a 2% increase seems simple enough, it is more complex than one might think.

While we anticipate that the appropriation will carry forward into the future, the 2% increase is only for the 2014-15 year—an additional 2% increase will not be provided in second year of biennium (2015-16). Also we anticipate that the appropriation will cover only 61.59% (roughly the average of state funding for the seven CCs). I fully support fighting to remove this often-applied percentage!

But for now, coming up with the remainder is up to each college. I have made this a priority in our budget committee discussions. It is important that you also know the appropriation does NOT cover employees whose salaries are paid by auxiliary or federal grants. Additional funds will need to be identified to cover raises for these employees as well.

A small increase in retirement system contributions will likely be passed directly to employees; however, we believe the legislature has augmented the salary increase by a like amount.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to get more. There was little interest among legislators in providing an additional 2% for second year of biennial funding cycle. Mark and I discussed the fact that getting the $14.3M for enrollment growth was a really big deal this session.

The community college presidents are discussing putting together an RFP for a salary survey to give us national data to take to the legislature during their next budget session.   

Major maintenance funding

A bill to increase the multiplier used to calculate CCs’ major maintenance funding passed both chambers of the legislature and is headed to the Governor for approval. According to Sheldon, although the proposed increase would mean about $146,000 per year to NWC, the bill limits what we can use major maintenance funding for.

Endowment challenge grant

A third-reading amendment to the budget would have set aside $10M for six of the seven CCs (EWC opted to sit out this round) and $10M for UW to be matched by private gifts. As I was driving to Pinedale that Friday evening, the Senate passed it but the House defeated it.

Last week the conference committee reduced the amount to $7.5M to be divided equally among six CCs and $7.5M for UW. I have not yet checked the specific language in the final version of the bill to determine if any restrictions may have been applied.

As you may know, over past several years this program has been very positive fundraising tool and due to the hard work of the foundation staff has brought a large amount of funding to the NWC Foundation for scholarships, technology, etc.

Other bills we have been watching:

Capital construction

The legislature approved funding for capital construction for community colleges. However with the Yellowstone Building’s construction underway, there was no NWC construction request this year.

Guns on campus

A bill to allow concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on CC and UW campuses died early in session. A separate bill to allow K-12 teachers to carry guns in schools died during past two weeks.

That is all for now. I will update you further as more details become come available. Please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Many thanks to trustees and others (you know who you are) for all that you have done during this session.


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