January 25, 2011

Its all budget all the time at the state Legislature

With the state Legislature moving into its third week, the pace of this session is somewhat different than in previous years, reports Margaret Shepherd, UW director of state relations.

The Legislature must consider an “early action” supplemental budget that would require the governors signature by early February in order to prevent across-the-board cuts in the remainder of the fiscal year.  The intent of this bill would be to address up to half of the remaining deficit that would occur from now until June 30.

Shepherd discussed developments in a Skype session with the Seattle campus held from her office in Olympia.

The current draft being debated in the House calls for $2 million in cuts to a UW category labeled as “research,” although it does not involve research activities per se. “The problem with this kind of cut is that most of the funds in this category have already been expended, or they are tied to salaries of current employees,” Shepherd says. A House Republican proposal does not include the $2 million cut.

Discussions on higher education policy will await bills from the governors office on her proposed administrative reorganization of education, and the recommendations of her Higher Education Funding Task Force. Pension reform, including measures that could affect future pensions within the higher education community, are being discussed this week – although the resolution will likely be tied to later discussions on the shape of the overall state budget.

“The budget is absorbing all the conversations in both houses and in both parties,” Shepherd says. “Higher education continues to be a focus of those discussions, and there is broad agreement that ‘something needs to be done. At this point, there is not much agreement on what that something is.

“There has been a lot of positive buzz in the media concerning higher education. Part of our job is ensuring that the sense of urgency doesnt get lost in the larger conversations about some of the choices to be made in the state budget.”