The two systems that run Mississippi’s public universities and community colleges each want lawmakers to increase their budgets by more than $75 million, arguing more state spending on higher education will help residents earn higher incomes and bolster the future of the state.

State agencies are presenting requests to the 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee this week, setting the stage for negotiations that won’t intensify until the 2015 Legislature begins. The lawmakers will write a budget for the fiscal year that begins next July.

Looming over both presentations, though, were legal efforts to force the Legislature to meet its funding promises to K-12 education. Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked officials from both higher education systems how they would cope if lawmakers took $312 million from their budgets to fully fund the K-12 formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Both said cuts to shift money to MAEP would be catastrophic.

“Obviously that would have a devastating effect,” said Eric Clark, executive director of the state Community College Board.

“I can’t even answer that,” said Higher Education Chancellor Hank Bounds. “Tuition won’t do it. Nothing would do it.”

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