Oklahoma Higher Education exemption subject of legislative interim study

 Among the 80 interim studies under way in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this year is one which could result in more Legislative control over tuition and fees at the state’s institutions of Higher Education. But that’s a big “could.”

Representative Jason Murphy, a Guthrie Republican, requested the study in order to have a review of statutory exemptions granted to Oklahoma Higher Education entities.

“This year, several legislators were critiquing our Government Modernization reforms based on the fact that Higher Ed had been exempted. I think some of the opposition was tongue-in-cheek,” Murphey said. He thought the members opposed to the reforms used the fact that Higher Ed was exempted in order to camouflage their real agenda.

Representative Murphy believes lobbyists for higher education in Oklahoma are strong enough to have killed the modernization reforms had higher education not been exempted. “We badly needed the reforms and I knew we could not risk having Higher Ed kill our proposal. However, I felt it was important for the legislators to know that we were going to ask for a study to examine the exemptions in order to keep them from throwing the baby out with the bath water and voting against the reforms. This kept us from being attacked from all sides.”

Besides examining and highlighting the number of exemptions granted, Murphey says the state Constitution comes into the picture.“Higher Ed claims that they are exempted from the application of certain reforms because of the Constitution. If this is the case, then maybe we need to decide if the people should be given the opportunity to vote for a Constitutional change.”

The Guthrie Republican says Representative Corey Holland a Marlow Republican, is also on board in support of the interim study and helped push for its approval out of the more than 125 interim study requests made this year.

While Interim Study 1019 is assigned to the House Committee on Higher Education, as of this writing, no hearing on the study has been scheduled. Interim study hearings can be held Tuesdays and Thursdays, with meeting notices posted under existing posting guidelines in the House.

Murphey is aware of Peter J. Rudy’s on-going Oklahoma Watchdog blog reports on spending increases by all colleges and universities. The most recent number-crunching Rudy conducted was from reports given him by Seminole State University, which actually did have a decrease in spending one year this decade.

Rudy reports: “Even with a spending decrease in FY 2004, the average increase in spending at Seminole State is 4.7% over the last decade.  That figure jumps to 6% after FY 2004.  The last three years, while state lawmakers struggled with less revenue, Seminole State saw spending increases of 3%, 4% and1.4%, respectively.”

Rudy’s point is “well taken”, according to Murphey. “When almost all of the institutions are increasing budgets even during a down time, I think the case can be made that as the Representatives of the people, the Legislature needs to re-assert its role over tuition fees etc. Technology should be driving the cost of education down! It is unbelievable that it keeps going up.”

 When asked what the probability might be that this study will evolve into a bill authored by him and introduced for consideration next session, Murphy responded, “I don’t know right now. It certainly could happen.”