SADOW: Foil’s Fee Bill Fails To Forage Far Enough

If state Rep. Franklin Foil knows what’s going on with his HB 62, he’s the only one.

Foil’s bill would amend the Constitution to get rid partially of the odd artifact that any new fee imposition or existing fee increase by a state agency needs a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature to go through. As it applies specifically to academia, this includes both fees and tuition.

While falling short of asking for repeal that thereby exempts all of government from this to grant added flexibility to administration, where oversight could be conducted by running every proposed increase or new charge by the Joint Legislative Committee of the Budget which then could veto these by a majority within a certain time span, at least HB 62 removes entirely fees charged in higher education, with no oversight at all. This makes sense as the marketplace will punish an institution that raises fees too much, if there’s some concern that the Legislature must conduct oversight on these matters out of fear that otherwise that runaway government will jack all fees sky high (even though oversight already exists in that policy-makers accountable to the electorate always can pass laws and resolutions vetoing these hikes or new ones).

But Foil’s bill specifically leaves out exemption of tuition increases, leading to the obvious question of why? There’s really no conceptual difference between the two in that they both are charges for services rendered. Traditionally, tuition acted as a general charge for the delivery of education while fees addressed specific activities, such as for athletics, student activities, laboratories, etc. Still, they both are incurred for the delivery of education.

So any theoretical difference as to why the bill treats one differently than the other mystifies. And while higher education leaders have stumped for greater flexibility in this area, fees typically offer that only at the margins, unless, as it appears presently, some redefinition of fees from ancillary status to that of a main mechanism for general financing of higher education occurs. Even if this has become a tactic for the fiscal year 2016 budget, this bill won’t help that because the amendment would need voter approval in order to go into effect after FY 2016 already has begun, so a look to the future should strive for more comprehensive changes. Additionally, if one has to go to all of the trouble to amend the Constitution, why not go all the way and include any charge made by higher education?

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the goal is to make financing decisions in higher education more market-driven and less politically-driven – subject to politics in that policy-makers wish to control these decisions, and by supermajorities no less, out of fear that increases of these charges may filter blame back to them that impairs their electoral prospects and/or because of a populist mentality that insists on underpricing and thereby disproportionally subsidizing the benefit of payment for a college education – tuition needs inclusion as an exempted item, if not simply repealing the whole passage.

State policy-makers need to get over the command and control ideology infused in the political culture throughout the state’s last century as a tool to allow them to reap political credits and to avoid political debits by situating themselves as gatekeepers seen personally responsible for what constituencies could get out of government. While that means repeal of Art. VII Sec. 2.1 of the Constitution, if it’s only going to be tinkered at then the least which could be done is to tinker more than HB 62 now promises. A passage exempting tuition as well needs to be added to it before voters get their say.



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