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February 23, 2006

With legislative deadline approaching, it’s a tale of two budgets

News and Information

With the statutory deadline for the legislative session fast approaching, there appear to be no major obstacles in the way of a March 9 adjournment, according to UW Director of State Relations Randy Hodgins.

Both the House and Senate have released their operating budgets, which are similar in most respects. Both call for putting about $950 million of state revenues in a reserve fund.

In their budgets, both houses have followed the lead of Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has managed to forge consensus recently on several other issues. She brought together environmentalists, Indian tribes and agriculture representatives to hammer out an agreement on how to use Columbia River Basin water. And just a few days ago she announced a successful effort to reach a compromise between attorneys and physicians on medical malpractice. “She’s put in a lot of time and effort on these negotiations,” Hodgins says. “I haven’t seen a governor get involved personally to the degree that she has.”

“The House operating budget exceeds our most optimistic expectations,” he says. It’s less than the UW’s initial request, but a major improvement over the governor’s proposal. The global health program is allocated more funds than in the Senate budget, and the state seismic network is fully funded. The budget also has funding for the Policy Consensus Center. A UW proposal for an evidence-based medicine program was funded in both chambers. The House plan for additional higher education enrollments is superior to the Senate’s, in Hodgins’ view. The Senate’s budget would allocate funds for “high demand” enrollment to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, while the House gives 150 additional enrollments directly to Seattle — 100 in engineering and 50 in math or science. These enrollments are funded at $16,000 and $18,000 per student, respectively. “If the money went to the HEC Board, we wouldn’t know until May or June what our enrollments would be, and that’s too late to plan for Autumn Quarter,” Hodgins says. The Senate allocated funds for 25 additional students at UW Tacoma, while the House did not fund any additional enrollments. Hodgins predicts some additional enrollments for Tacoma in the final budget. UW Bothell did not request additional enrollments.

The Burke museum received $150,000 for expanded educational programs in both the House and Senate budgets. There is also money in the Senate budget to expand program offerings in MESA (Mathematics Education and Science Achievement).

Hodgins believes the final operating budget is likely to be heavily influenced by the governor’s priorities. “We need her signature and we know she doesn’t want to spend more money than she announced in her proposal,” he said. “We’re not going to get any more than what was in the House budget and it will probably be less.”

The Senate capital budget overall is very tight. There is money for a UW nanotechnology institute recruitment, and also some funds for UWT land acquisition. The UWT proposal involves selling UW trust lands, an approach of which the UW does not approve.

The Senate’s proposed capital budget would allow Everett Community College to add space in an already-planned building to run a program as a university center. Hodgins anticipates that the community college would contract with UWB to provide courses at this center.

The House transportation budget, to be released today, is of some interest to the UW because of issues surrounding the proposed Pacific Interchange for SR-520. The UW hopes to be included in a working group to be led by the city, which would also include representatives from the Arboretum and affected neighborhoods. “It’s important that the UW be part of the group discussing this plan, which has serious impacts on that area of campus,” Hodgins says.