DENVER — A measure to permanently cap tuition hikes at Colorado's public colleges and universities at 6 percent a year was rejected in a state Senate panel Thursday.
Education Committee members agreed that Colorado has done a poor job of funding higher education, but the GOP-controlled board voted 5-4 on party lines to reject the measure, with ruling Republicans calling it arbitrary micromanagement by lawmakers.
"I'm always resistant to tell anybody from government, 'We need to do it just like this,'" said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton.
Lawmakers from both parties seemed sympathetic to college students who testified about expensive tuition.
"Higher ed shouldn't be a privilege for the wealthy," said Catlin Gortze, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Lawmakers were swayed, though, by testimony about the pitfalls of such a cap.
A lobbyist for Colorado Department of Higher Education said that with a cap institutions may be inclined to seek 6 percent tuition hikes every year, as a safeguard against state budget cuts in future years.
"When the state reduces support, it puts a crunch on the institutions," said Kachina Weaver, speaking for the department.
The bill would have made Colorado the first state with a permanent tuition hike cap, Weaver said.
Even a Democrat who voted for the cap, Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, pointed out that 6 percent hikes each year "would still allow the most dramatic cost acceleration we've seen in the last 40 years."
Still, the defeat was a blow to Democrats who are newly in the Senate minority. They've proposed a slate of measures to reduce costs on the middle class, from the tuition cap to measures limiting interest rates for consumer credit and student loans. The tuition effort was the first up for a hearing.
The bill's defeat means that the Legislature will likely have to set a new procedure for tuition at public universities after 2016, when the current tuition procedure expires.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt
Senate Bill 62: http://bit.ly/1yNKmfr
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