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Gov. directs more money to higher ed

PORTLAND — Gov. Ted Kulongoski gave the Oregon judicial and higher education departments some refuge from steep budget cuts Thursday when he issued two line-item vetoes.

The governor reversed two cuts to the higher education budget. First, he directed $13.4 million from the general funds budget to the department. That means he's sending more state funds their way than what the Legislature included in their budget.

Kulongoski also decided to give the department access to $21.9 million in funds that it had collected itself through tuition and grants.

By upping the department's budget, Kulongoski said he was trying to avoid steep tuition hikes. In a letter to Secretary of State Kate Brown, Kulongoski said tuition increases “combined with the underfunding of the Oregon Opportunity Grant program in the legislatively adopted budget, will operate to make higher education less accessible to many low-income and middle-income Oregonians.”

The governor also decided to give $6.3 million more to Oregon's courts. He said those extra dollars were needed “to maintain an open and accessible court system” for the next two years.

House Speaker Dave Hunt objected to the budget vetoes.

“In the budget we approved, every state agency was expected to take cuts that came from wage cuts and other savings to balance the state budget,” he said in a statement. “What this veto says is that Higher Education and the judicial system should be exempt from making the same kinds of cuts as all other agencies.”

The governor's office says that's not the case.

Higher education is “in a much more dire situation than many state agencies,” said Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for the governor. “It's not unlikely they'll have to make even bigger cuts.”

In another action, the governor followed through on his threat to veto a measure that directed the Department of Fish and Wildlife to analyze the possible purchase of a trout hatchery in Lake County.

The department, he said, doesn't have the money for such an analysis, estimated to cost nearly $500,000. He added that the study would yield little or no new information over what is already known about problems with fish hatcheries.