Spending Limit Puts Squeeze on UW Budget Plans in Olympia

The Washington State Legislature gets down to business in March as budgets for 1997-99 come out of the Senate and the House of Representatives--including each chamber's version of a new UW budget.

In past sessions the Legislature often had less money than it wanted to spend, but this session it has more money than it can spend, due to the Initiative 601 spending limit. Current forecasts project a $300 million surplus over the $19 billion lawmakers can allocate for the next two years.

"Under 601 the money is very limited," notes UW Associate Vice President for University Relations Sheral Burkey. By just carrying forward expenses from the last budget and by giving state employees a cost-of-living increase, "you've used up all the money," she says.

Gov. Gary Locke
In spite of the squeeze, Burkey and Vice President for University Relations Bob Edie believe that there is potential for higher education to succeed in this session. While the new governor, Gary Locke, is a Democrat and both houses in the Legislature are controlled by Republicans, there is strong support on both sides for higher education, the two say.

This year, the highest priority for the UW is better salaries for faculty and staff. A decade ago, the state higher education board declared that the average UW salary should rank at the 75th percentile compared to 24 similar universities.

Currently the UW is at the 52nd percentile and slipping. Since 1990-91, competitive offers to UW faculty have more than doubled. Because of the drop, the UW is asking for a 7.5 percent salary increase in each year of the new biennium.

The UW is also supporting a bill to create a "recruitment and retention pool" for faculty. "There is interest among legislators to improve funding for higher education," says Edie.

Another priority for the UW is increased enrollments. Children born to "baby boomers"--the so-called "baby boom echo"--are beginning to reach college age. The UW, and in particular its campuses at Bothell and Tacoma, must have systematic growth in order to absorb the coming flood, says Burkey.

The UW is asking for 800 new spaces at the Seattle campus and 300 each for Tacoma and Bothell. Burkey and Edie say there may be some resistance by lawmakers since enrollments are down at state institutions east of the Cascades. Former Gov. Mike Lowry's budget actually froze enrollment increases for 1997 everywhere.

"In the Puget Sound region, there is no drop off in demand," Burkey notes. "It doesn't make any sense to slow down growth, particularly at Bothell and Tacoma," adds Edie, where many students are unable to relocate because they are older, working part-time and have families.

Another area of concern is tuition. "There really hasn't been a thoughtful approach to tuition in years," says Burkey. During past budget sessions, lawmakers often made an arbitrary increase or raised the rates across the board.

"For undergraduates, we would like to see a stable, predictable tuition approach," she explains. "When you enroll as a freshman in the fall of 1997, you should know what your tuition will be over the next four years."

The UW is asking for a 5 percent increase each year through 2000. Currently tuition is $3,145 for resident undergraduates. At the turn of the century it would be $3,823 under the UW plan.

In addition, UW officials would like to see different rates for non-resident undergraduates, law and M.B.A. students that would reflect market conditions. "We just don't feel that one size fits all," states Edie.

Under the UW proposal, in-state law tuition would rise 12 percent each year of the biennium, in-state M.B.A tuition would go up 10 percent each year, and non-resident undergraduate tuition would rise 8.3 percent annually. Currently in-state law and M.B.A. students pay $4,932 for the year. Non-resident undergraduates pay $9,755.

One of the most challenging issues for higher education will be preparing for enrollment growth through building programs. The state's capital budget is stretched thin, says Burkey, yet the needs at the UW are pressing. The main UW requests include:

Ocean and Fishery Sciences Buildings: A $69 million project to build a new Fisheries Building and a new Oceanography Building in the southwest portion of the campus near Portage Bay. About $30 million for this project will come out of UW revenues.

Suzzallo Library Renovation: The original 1925 building and additions from the 1930s and 1960s are failing and inadequate. This $32.7 million project will bring the library up to current seismic standards and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Law School Building: A new $50.9 million law building would go up south of the Burke Museum, replacing the inadequate Condon Hall and bringing the law school back to the main campus. The UW is raising $17 million in private funds--including a $12 million gift from Bill and Melinda Gates--to supplement the state contribution of $33.9 million.

Harborview Research and Training Building: Harborview researchers now use a former nurse's residence for research projects. A new, 10-story facility will eliminate overcrowding and unsafe working conditions. Of a total $54.2 million cost, UW revenues will cover $11.8 million.

UW Bothell Campus: The UW and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges are each asking for $50 million to fund a new campus to house both UW Bothell and the new Cascadia Community College. Phase One would open in 2000 at a site near the intersection of I-405 and State Route 522.

UW Tacoma Campus: This fall, when UW Tacoma moves from rented quarters to its new site across from the old Union Station, it will immediately be at full capacity. The UW is asking for $22.9 million to design Phase Two of the campus in preparation for a future enrollment of more than 7,000 students by 2010.

"For many of these projects, we are bringing significant amounts of UW funds to the table," notes Edie. "Leveraging funding is an important part of what we are trying to do. Lawmakers need to understand that they are maximizing their dollars by helping us."

Surveys show that UW alumni are keenly interested in the fate of their alma mater. On Feb. 13, alumni gathered for the annual UW Day in Olympia to hear a panel of legislators discuss the fate of higher education. Alumni interested in more information about the UW budget and the session in Olympia should contact Alumni Outreach Coordinator Kevin Evanto at (206) 543-0540 or 1-800-AUW-ALUM or send e-mail to kevanto@u.washington.edu on the Internet.

Send a letter to the editor at columns@u.washington.edu.

Table of Contents