A bill to make it possible for Gila Community College to achieve independence has stalled in the Arizona House of Representatives on concerns it could cost the state money.
As a result, Senate President Pro Tem Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) said she’ll take the bill back to the Senate to add an amendment that makes it clear that a newly independent GCC won’t become eligible for equalization funding that goes to the rest of the state’s rural community colleges.
Allen, the bill’s author, said the amendment will not affect the bill and simply clears up a disagreement between the Senate’s legislative counsel and the House’s legislative counsel.
“I’m having to make them happy about it over in the House,” said Allen.
“My concern right now is I have to get it onto the floor in the House and be sure I get it passed there.”
So the House Education Committee will amend the bill, with Allen’s agreement. It will then go to the floor and if it passes there, back to the Senate to approve the amendment.
On the other hand, Allen said that a bill that would make GCC eligible for federal work force development funding continues to move smoothly through the House, after making its way through the Senate. That bill could make GCC eligible for $100,000 to $120,000 in federal funding for programs that retrain workers, like the college’s nursing, firefighter, small business and police officer training programs.
The independence bill would open the door to independence for GCC, the only provisional community college in the state. GCC gets far less state money per student than any regular college — and also has among the lowest property tax rates in the state. GCC contracts with Eastern Arizona College to provide accreditation, which means the GCC board has little real control over budgets, tuition or programs. GCC pays a 25 percent administrative fee to EAC on everything it spends.
Other rural community colleges in the state get extra help from a state equalization fund, which the Legislature established because rural districts often include so much federal land that they don’t have a sufficient tax base to support their budgets. If GCC qualified for equalization funding currently, it would double its $6 million budget.
Members of the House committee wanted to make certain that GCC would not become eligible for equalization funding if it became independent.
Over in the Senate, the legislative counsel said the bill would have had to specifically mention equalization funding for GCC to become eligible. In the House, the legal adviser said that wasn’t enough — the bill had to say explicitly that GCC could not get equalization funding.
Sen. Allen said she has no problem with the proposed amendment, but wants to hurry the bill along before the current session runs down.
“We need the amendment to make the House committee members happy. Then we need to get it to the floor and talk to members and get their votes. Once it is passed in the House, then it will come back to the Senate automatically for another vote.”