An unusual degree of consensus is emerging from the legislative budget process, with funding of higher education remaining as one of the major differences among the state budgets proposed by the Governor, the Senate, and the House.
With Gov. Gregoire taking an active role in the process of creating a final budget document, the prospects look good for higher education and for the UW, but of course nothing is sure until the session is gaveled to its conclusion — which could well occur by the April 24 deadline for the end of session, according to Randy Hodgins, director of state relations. The legislature has not completed a biennial budget on time in almost a decade.
The operating budget from the House, which was announced a week ago, is the best of the three budgets for higher education, according to University officials. It identified quality, access and affordability as all important and worthy of state resources. The budget funds an additional 4,800 enrollments in four-year institutions and 5,150 slots at community and technical colleges. Enrollments at the UW in Seattle are funded at $6,303 per student (as compared with $5,500 in the Senate budget); enrollments in Bothell and Tacoma are funded at $10,000 (funded at just $5,500 in the Senate version).
The UW and WSU would be authorized to increase tuition by up to 7 percent per year, with those funds retained by the institution. In the Senate budget half of the tuition increase would be redirected to increase funding for the State Need Grant. State Need Grants in the House budget are fully funded with state resources.
The House budget would allow the UW to perhaps make up some ground in the per-student funding gap between the University and its peer institutions. The Senate budget, in contrast, would cause the gap to continue to grow.
The House budget also earmarks a source of dedicated funding for higher education enhancements in the future from the restored estate tax and has labeled this the Legacy Trust Fund. It would increase as revenue collections from the estate tax increase.
“The elements of a compromise on the outstanding issues are there,” Hodgins says. “Legislators will need to balance increased access with the availability of financial aid, and perhaps take tuition increases into consideration. We certainly are very supportive of the House budget, but the Governor’s budget also would be very good for higher education. And we have expressed clearly the problems we see with the Senate’s approach, which is not as good for the institutions of higher education. As we’ve had these discussions, we’re beginning to see some softening in the position of some senators.”
The capital budget in the House is also very favorable. Its chief distinction from the Senate and the Governor’s budget is in funding for facilities at both UW Bothell and UW Tacoma. The Senate funds projects at neither campus, while the Governor’s budget funds improvements only at UW Tacoma. Both the House and Senate budgets fund the major renovations on the Seattle campus.
The third major element of the state budget is transportation, and the only issue important to the UW, a freeway ramp for UW Bothell, is in the budgets of both houses.
Other matters of significance to the UW include the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which would provide $35 million a year in funding for research in the life sciences and appears poised to pass the House after it already gained Senate approval, and a bill that would permit stem cell research, which has passed the House and is awaiting reconsideration in the Senate after the measure failed this past Monday.
A bill to create the Washington Academy of Sciences has passed both houses and was delivered to the Governor for signature. A bill changing state ethics rules to facilitate technology transfer from the research universities also is awaiting the Governor’s signature. A bill requiring public buildings to be built using “green” standards has been signed into law.
For more detailed information about activity in the state legislature and its impact on the UW, see http://www.washington.edu/about/staterel/.