December 18, 2008

State budget challenges

By Office of the President

Dear Members of the University Community:

Earlier today, Governor Gregoire submitted to the Legislature her 2009-2011 biennial budget proposal. As expected, it contains significant reductions for higher education as well as other state agencies, some of which will also negatively impact our medical centers. Obviously, the Governor faced an enormous challenge in putting together a budget during these historically difficult economic times. It is no easy task, to be sure. And while it is clear that she attempted to spread the pain, it nevertheless is substantial for the University.

The Governor has proposed a 13 percent cut in funding to the state’s 4-year colleges and universities for the upcoming biennium. For the UW, this would mean a reduction of $116 million for the biennium. This comes on top of the 4.25 percent reduction we have just taken this year. It is important to note, however, that the Governor’s budget proposal is just that–a proposal. We do not have a final biennial budget yet, nor do we know the amount by which we must reduce our budget. When we do, some months from now, we hope other sources of funding–including tuition and fees–will help mitigate the effects of these reductions on the University’s budget.

The Governor’s budget proposal is the first step in a process that will unfold over the coming months. In mid-January, the Legislature will convene, and eventually legislators in each chamber will present their own budget proposals. These will not be presented publicly, though, until after the next
state revenue forecast scheduled for mid-March. We do not expect the final state budget to be adopted until sometime in mid to late April. Thus, we are facing several months of uncertainty about our financial future. Weathering any period of uncertainty can be trying, to say the least. However, the long time frame is also useful in providing more time to present our case that protecting the University’s fiscal well-being is critical to the future of our state. We have a very strong case, and we will deliver it in Olympia as forcefully and aggressively as possible.

In the meantime, it would be highly unrealistic–not to mention irresponsible–to think that higher education will emerge unscathed from
Washington’s worsening economic downturn. While we will be working very hard in the coming months to protect our budget, it is also necessary to plan for the future. As Provost Wise indicated last week in her letter to the UW community (you can read it at: http://www.washington.edu/provost/), we are having many conversations across the University–including with the Senate Committee on Planning and Budgeting (SCPB), the University Budget Committee (UBC), the Board of Deans and Chancellors (BoDC), and staff and student groups–about the budget situation. We have been modeling several different budget scenarios, and we are actively seeking ways to increase revenue and efficiencies and to decrease spending. In late January, after continued consultation, Provost Wise will be sending to deans and chancellors, vice provosts, and vice presidents refined estimates for potential cuts at the unit level.

As we move forward during this period of economic uncertainty, the University is fully committed to working with the Governor, the Legislature, our
colleagues in higher education, and other key stakeholders and leaders to find creative, effective solutions to our state’s economic challenges. Despite cuts in some statewide programs providing medical care for the needy, for example, we must find ways to provide necessary health care for these individuals. We are also adamant in our resolve to preserve our ability to meet the higher education needs of our state’s citizens. The magnitude of the proposed cuts in the Governor’s budget puts this ability at risk because we may not be able to educate the same number of students with significantly less money.

Provost Wise and I will continue to keep you informed as the state budget process progresses. Many of you have submitted creative ideas for cutting costs, and we encourage you to continue to think of ways we can economize. You may submit ideas to bgtideas@u.washington.edu. We have very serious challenges ahead. Overcoming them will take an enormous collective effort by all of us at the University, our elected officials in Olympia, and our partners across the state. By working together, we can assure that the UW and the state of Washington emerge from this economic downturn even stronger.

Sincerely,
President Emmert's signature
Mark A. Emmert
President

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