Just as life is a cycle of beginnings and endings, so too is life at North Idaho College. We experience three distinct cycles. The first is our academic year which runs from fall through winter into spring. The second is our budget year which starts on July 1 and ends the following June 30. The final cycle is the actual calendar year of January through December. They overlap and intersect and sometimes create a mid-cycle break. That is where we are now; the halfway point in the academic and budget years. While a break in the cycles is good and we will get some time off, we are also preparing for the new calendar year cycle. Among other things, this means our government affairs activities kick into high gear as we anticipate the beginning of the Idaho legislative session in early January.
I am pleased to report that we are heading into the 2012 legislative season with more optimism than in the past several sessions. All indications point to a session with different dynamics than in recent years. The state's last fiscal year ended with a small surplus, part of which was distributed to K-12 and part to community colleges and professional technical education. Although state revenues for the early part of the new fiscal year are falling behind projections, the Governor and Legislature set FY 2012 spending at levels low enough to almost insure another surplus. This means that we do not foresee budget holdbacks for this year and believe we might even see an increase in state revenue for higher education. If so, this which would help us slow the growth of tuition and fees and keep education affordable for the many people in our community who want and need to go to college.
The other dynamic is that 2012 is an election year. Rather than budget battles, we may see more legislation based upon ideology and politics as incumbents position themselves for reelection. Adding further uncertainly is the recent legislative re-districting and the legal challenges that may bring. For those who enjoy following the legislature, it should be a very interesting year.
Despite the overall uncertainty, we are developing our positions on several issues which we will include in our presentations to the various legislative committees. Late in January I will travel to Boise to make my annual reports to the Joint Appropriations Finance Committee (JFAC) and both the House and Senate Education Committees. Members of my staff will accompany me as well as several of our trustees to help tell the NIC story to our legislators. There is no telling what issues may or may not come up, but I will share two that are on our radar.
First is the concept that the state should consider construction bonding to pay for capital building projects on college and university campuses. Funding for new buildings has virtually vanished over the past several years and we do not foresee the situation getting better anytime soon. This may be the perfect time for this idea to work. The state has a great credit rating and the costs for construction are very reasonable. There is also a precedent for this. Under Gov. Kempthorne, the state did this very thing and built new college buildings throughout the state. NIC built the Meyer Health and Sciences Building through this bond financing. With enrollments at historic highs and students unable to get into classes they want and need, now is the time to consider this.
Another issue we expect to encounter has to do with weapons on campuses, specifically firearms. Under current Idaho law, the control of weapons on campuses has been delegated to the governing boards for the colleges and universities. In NIC's case, our locally elected board of trustees approves the campus policy on weapons. Last session a bill was introduced to change this local control, but it was not successful. We anticipate it may come up again and I expect all the colleges and universities to be united in opposition to removing this local control. We believe that our locally elected board is best positioned to respond to the safety and security needs of our staff, students and visitors. This may be a very contentious and emotional issue which our readers will want to follow.
I invite you to read more about the issues for this coming session in our Legislative Focus 2012 at www.nic.edu/about/legislativeAgenda.pdf. And, I welcome your comments and suggestions at my email below.
Priscilla Bell, Ph.D., is president of North Idaho College. For comments on this column, email her at PresidentsColumn@NIC.EDU.