March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Bauer: ‘Totally caught me by surprise’

Wednesday, May 11 — State Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, said today she was “surprised” and “dismayed” at a late amendment approved in the state House of Representatives’ omnibus education bill last week that proposes to cut state aid by another 5 percent for public universities that offer benefits that include covering same-sex partners.

That’s on top of a proposed 15 percent cut in state aid to state’s 15 public universities.

Fourteen of the state’s 15 public universities have introduced some form of same-sex benefits since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that banned domestic-partner benefits. The schools’ policies sidestep the ban by offering the benefits to other members of employees’ households.

Bauer said the additional cut would cost Michigan State University another $11 million.

“It totally caught me by surprise,” Bauer said on “City Pulse on the Air” today. (The show airs at 7 p.m. today on WDBM, 88.9 FM, and is available by podcast at Thursday.)

Bauer is Democratic vice-chairwoman of the higher education subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

 “Of all the amendments to come up with in the entire education omnibus bill, they added that one. I was very, very surprised. Very dismayed.”

The amendment was introduced on the floor by Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, on May 5. Bauer said the next step is assigning conference committees to reconcile the House and Senate versions of education bills.

Bauer said the $11 million that would come out of MSU’s budget would be on top of more than $40 million that would result in a 15 percent cut in state funding.

Agema’s amendment presents some legal issues, Bauer said, adding that “our state Constitution is very clear about the economy and the state university system.” Michigan’s 15 public universities are autonomous with their own decision-making boards.

“There’s a thin line between how involved the state can get at running universities,” Bauer said.

Agema has said in the media that universities are sidestepping state law and the 2004 ballot proposal, the main purpose of which was the ban on same-sex marriage.

For Agema, it appears cutting funding for universities that offer same sex benefits is a social issue, not an economic one, Bauer said.

On Saturday, Agema posted this message on his Facebook page: “Fear the government that fears your guns. Fear the colleges that break the law to force their own faculty and students to accept same sex/unmarried benefits. Remember Universities are training the next generation for what garbage they put out as acceptable into the kids brains. We can lose our country in one generation.”

When asked why going after social issues seems to be a priority for Republicans in this Legislature, Bauer said: “I don’t know.”

“It’s just intervening in areas in a budget that I don’t think are appropriate and are counterproductive to try and move the state ahead,” she said.