September 07, 2001 11:00 pm

SALEM (AP) State lawmakers are outraged that higher education officials raised tuition and student fees at Oregon colleges and universities without seeking legislators blessing.

Members of the State Emergency Board the Legislatures interim budget committee on Friday lambasted the Oregon Board of Higher Education for approving $25.4 million in tuition increases and fees.

This burns me up no end, said Sen. Lenn Hannon, R-Ashland. For the next 15 or 16 months Im going to be here, Im not going to roll over and play dead for these people. Theyve got a serious problem.

The 2001 Legislature adopted a higher education budget based on a 4 percent tuition increase, but the higher education board approved tuition and fee increases ranging from 5.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

The Legislature decides how much general fund money the higher education system will get, but the board can set tuition and fees without legislators approval. That creates political tensions that have strained the relationship between the Legislature and the higher education system in recent years.

The bottom line is, theres clearly no tolerance between the statutory authority granted the board and the Legislatures expectations, said Grattan Kerans, a higher education lobbyist. It was a mistake to go beyond it lets call it like it is.

The 2001 Legislature required higher education officials to report to the Emergency Board if they raised tuition more than 4 percent. But all lawmakers could do at the quarterly Emergency Board meeting Friday was accept the report.

I, for one, think its outrageous, said Rep. Jackie Winters, R-Salem. Some of us really struggled with even giving them 4 percent.

Some lawmakers said the boards behavior would mean less leniency when it comes to future Emergency Board requests. The lawmakers said they may even look at the higher education budget if it comes to special session next year to deal with a budget shortfall of about $212 million.

I think I know one place where well be looking, said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches.

The 19-member board meets every couple of months between legislative sessions to handle spending requests and other budget issues.

Higher education items likely to appear on future board agendas include $4 million to expand a veterinary degree program at Oregon State University, and $4.3 million to build an integrated services building at Eastern Oregon University.

AP-WS-09-08-01 0303EDT