April 20, 2011
Legislative session likely to go into overtime
Although this week is supposed to mark the official end of the Washington legislative session, all parties have agreed a special session will be necessary.
When that session will be called, and how long it might last, is still a matter of discussion. UW Director of State Relations Margaret Shepherd expects the session to conclude in May, although at this point its impossible to be more specific. Besides negotiating a difference about $400 million in the state budget, both houses must also decide on between 30 and 60 other bills that are deemed necessary for implementing the budget.
Each house has passed its own budget that, for all the differences, results in similar size cuts to the UW (after tuition increases are taken into account), on the order of five to seven percent for the coming biennium. Both budgets have measures that call for salary reductions, but the university is urging that it be given broad discretion in how to reach those reduction targets. Both budgets preserve the State Need Grant but make sizable reductions to the state work-study program.
A pension bill that calls for a cap of six percent on state contributions is likely to pass. It currently contains a provision that would be highly restrictive in limiting who would qualify in the future for participation in the UW Retirement Plan – this would apply only to new employees. The UW, according to Shepherd, is talking to legislators and staff in both houses and urging a relaxation of that provision, which she agrees could have “disruptive consequences” for the university. “The UW believes that, whatever pension bill passes, it is legally obligated to continue the current level of matching contributions for current employees,” she says.
House Bill 1795, which would grant the UW broad authority in setting tuition for the next four years, is still very much alive, having passed the House Ways and Means Committee with a bipartisan vote of 22-5. The bill also incorporates many elements of regulatory relief that the university has sought. Shepherd credited leadership in both parties with the bills success thus far; she is anticipating that the bill will pass the House with bipartisan support. A companion bill with some different provisions is under consideration in the Senate.
The UW is still working on adding language to the final budget that gives the university flexibility in administering any statewide hiring or salary freezes.