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March 4, 2004

Lawmakers have big budget disagreement to solve as end of session nears

News and Information

Competing versions of the supplemental operating budgets are taking center stage in Olympia.


With the session scheduled to end March 11, the majority Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House will need to move fairly quickly to settle their sizable differences in proposed spending.


The House budget calls for $37.6 million in spending for higher education, while the Senate allocates just $5.6 million. The largest segment of the higher education budget in the House is $15.8 million for general enrollments, some of which would be used to fund the currently unfunded positions at the UW and other institutions, according to Randy Hodgins, director of state relations.


“One of the important factors in the House budget is that universities would be allocated $5,500 per student, which is substantially more than the Governor’s figure of $4,000, which moves closer to the actual costs of education,” Hodgins says.


Another area of emphasis in the House budget is for high-demand enrollments. Their budget would appropriate $6.4 million to the Higher Education Coordinating Board and an equal amount to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which then would take proposals from institutions for increased enrollments in high-demand fields. The Senate spends just $2.5 million in high-demand enrollments.


The key question is how much the Republicans in the Senate will budge in negotiations. Hodgins believes that the final budget will probably result in more higher education enrollments, although it’s impossible at this point to predict how many and whether they will emphasize general or high demand catergories.


Financial aid, in the form of Promise Scholarships and State Need Grant funding, was increased in the House budget. The Senate offered no more money for Promise Scholarships but did increase the size of individual state need grants.


The budgets differ in a number of other small but significant ways. The House allocates funds to cover a portion of medical malpractice insurance for physicians affiliated with UW Medicine, while the Senate does not. Only the House allocates money for educational outreach at the Burke museum and for research at the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. The Senate would create a satellite branch of the UW Autism Center at UW Tacoma and also would create an endowment in Korean Studies at the UW.


One troubling aspect of the Senate budget is a 10 percent cut in personal services, equipment and travel funds. “This is our number one priority to restore,” Hodgins says.


Only a few other pieces of legislation that are of interest to the UW are still alive. The Governor has already signed a bill granting tax exemptions to the construction of research and development facilities, which would include research facilities built for the UW or WSU.


A performance contract bill is still alive in the Senate, but its chances of passage are still uncertain. A growing chorus in the House believes the concept needs more study, but the final budget negotiations could end up in the passage of some version of the bill, Hodgins says.


A bill mandating the enforcement of the student conduct code off campus has died in the Senate Higher Education committee, but Hodgins cautioned that as long as the Legislature remains in session, there are chances the bill could be revived.


The future development of the state’s branch campuses is still a matter for discussion. One bill that is still alive would simply require all branches to produce a planning document for the next legislative session, which would then be used in deliberations about future growth and expansion.


But Hodgins points out that the chief budget writers in the House and the Senate want things to move more quickly and specifically would like to see creation of four-year institutions in Bothell and Vancouver, respectively. He believes that the final version of the budget is likely to contain language mandating a study for these expansions, including timelines and estimates of cost.