DENVER (AP) A Colorado legislative committee studying long-term fiscal reform has approved a bill giving colleges and universities more flexibility, and a study of the state's complicated state and local tax structure to be delivered in 2011.
None of the proposals that the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission considered Wednesday dealt with the state's tough tax and spending limits, which lawmakers say tie their hands when dealing with budget problems.
The higher education plan calls for allowing colleges to enroll more international students and removing strict annual state reporting requirements. Lawmakers didn't know yet how much the proposal would save.
Instead of filing detailed reports on how colleges are being run, college presidents want to give state agencies only their audited financial reports, which opponents said would make them less accountable.
Senate Majority Leader John Morse, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, said colleges and universities need more flexibility to cut costs because the future of higher education in Colorado is at stake, especially for rural areas, as lawmakers struggle to cut more than $560 million from this fiscal year's budget, which ends June 30.
Over this fiscal year and the next, lawmakers will see the state General Fund budget slashed from $7.5 billion to $6.2 billion.
"Our ultimate goal should be to save the community college system," he told the committee.
The panel rejected proposals allowing colleges and universities flexibility in setting tuition after Gov. Bill Ritter threatened a veto, prompting Republicans to demand that the panel remove a proposal exempting colleges from state personnel rules limiting the use of temporary employees and exemptions from the state pension program designed to keep educators from seeking early retirement.
Rico Munn, the governor's new director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, told college leaders at a summit last month that tuition flexibility would put college out of reach for many students and the governor would veto any bill that included that provision.
Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said Republicans wanted the same consideration given the governor, including removal of state pension requirements that she said gave college professors preferential treatment, even though the state pension fund is in financial trouble.
Republicans said allowing college professors to collect state retirement and continue to work at the same time would deprive the pension fund of badly needed income from new recruits, and the panel agreed.
The proposals still require approval from legislative leaders before they are presented to the full Legislature, which convenes in January.
The commission has spent months studying solutions for higher education and transportation funding, health care and kindergarten through 12th grade education. They've also looked at creating a state rainy day fund.