By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Legislation providing the state’s 15 community colleges with level funding arrived on Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk Thursday.
The House voted 116-3 to accept Senate legislation that provides $226.3 million, or level funding, for the community colleges.
It is highly unusual to send a budget bill to the governor at this point in the process. Normally the House and Senate place all general fund budget bills in conference and when the end of session nears, appropriations leaders from the two chambers try to craft an overall budget compromise.
“We just thought this was the best deal we were going to get for the community colleges so we accepted the Senate amendment,” said House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose. “The community colleges are too important not to.”
Stringer said the original position of the House was $3 million above level funding for the community colleges, but the Senate proposal was close enough.
The Senate leadership had advocated $15 million less funding for the community colleges than what was sent to the governor Thursday. But on the Senate floor earlier this session, Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, offered an amendment to increase their funding by $15 million – bringing them to the same level they received from the 2010 Legislature.
Gordon’s amendment passed by a 29-5 margin.
Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Davis, R-Hernando, had argued unsuccessfully that the state could not afford the additional $15 million in funding during the tight budget year where many agencies are expected to sustain additional cuts.
Gordon said community colleges could not sustain additional cuts. He said during the past 10 years state support has decreased 26 percent while enrollment has increased 54 percent.