CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A House of Delegates committee on Tuesday stripped a bill of language that would have given West Virginia and Marshall universities more leeway in spending on capital investments and compensation of their presidents.
Now, the measure would allow any public college or university in the state to spend twice as much as current state law allows without seeking approval from a state oversight commission.
The House Education Committee made the changes to Senate Bill 444 early Tuesday and then approved the bill on a non-unanimous voice vote.
"I think it's a good step for us to take with WVU and Marshall," said House Education Vice Chairman Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln.
"We talked about all this local control with the K-12 bill. I think this gives our flagship universities a little more local control to be a little more entrepreneurial but without getting rid of the oversight that is needed."
As originally introduced, the bill only increased the amount of money WVU or Marshall could invest with their respective private fund-raising foundations.
The Senate Education Committee expanded the measure to include exemptions for both schools when it came to oversight of capital projects or how much they could pay a president.
The Higher Education Policy Commission oversees all four-year public universities in West Virginia.
Under current law, if a project costs WVU or Marshall more than $15 million, the commission must give its approval. Any other school needs approval if a project exceeds $1 million. Changes made in the House Education Committee would double those amounts.
David Hendrickson, commission chairman, was furious when the Senate unanimously passed its version of the measure. He said he was a little more comfortable with the changes made on Tuesday but doesn't understand what WVU and Marshall were after in the first place.
"To me, education and higher education is all about being transparent and being open in the process," Hendrickson said.
"Look, they may have some very, very good reason why they feel they don't want to come to the policy commission that they haven't told me. But that's the point: Nobody has told me."
WVU asked the commission for more leeway, Hendrickson said. During Tuesday's committee meeting, he said a Marshall representative said the school never had had problems getting approval.
Officials from both schools remained silent Tuesday on why the measure was necessary.
A Marshall spokeswoman said school administrators were in a meeting of the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago and could not comment on the changes to the bill until they had seen them.