February 6, 2007

House Committee Scuttles Campus Briefing

By Randy Hodgins

Nothing like a real “grab you” headline, right?  As you have surmised, my planned campus legislative briefing for 10:30 a.m. this morning was sidetracked by the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee which decided yesterday to schedule executive action on HB 1506 at their 10:00 a.m. meeting this morning.  This measure reauthorizes the University’s ability to use what is called “design build” and “general contractor construction management” or “GCCM” for major capital construction projects, and is one of our “high priority” bills for the 2007 legislative session.

So, let me try to use the blog to cover the main points I was going to talk about at the briefing this morning.

1.  The legislative session is officially 25% completed and so far, all is going generally well for the University.  Although some legislators have expressed mild frustration about the Governor’s overall spending level, their has been general acknowledgement that her higher education budget is the strongest in more than a decade and that “now is the time” to make these kind of investments.

2.  The tone among legislators in “one-on-one” meetings and in committee hearings has been more positive for higher education that I have seen in my three years representing the UW.  Higher education has been granted greater “airtime” in the fiscal committees to present our budget and policy priorities, and questions and comments from individual legislators have been more supportive and less hostile than in the past.

3.  While the debate over the Alaskan Way Viaduct has certainly dominated the headlines in the press and been the subject of most Olympia hallway conversations, it has not distracted legislators from spending most of their time in committee meetings on education.  Washington Learns and it’s focus on early learning, K-12 and higher education continues to dominate the budget and policy discussions.  In fact, watch for more attention on the WASL issue in the coming weeks as the Viaduct moves off the front pages until after the special election in Seattle on March 13.

4.  The overall budget situation continues to improve.  Major entitlement programs which drive more than 50% of all general fund expenditures are trending downward, meaning that even without additional revenues, the legislature will have more money to spend on their individual priorities, decreasing the risk that the Governor’s higher education budget will have to be substantially reduced.

5.  Over the next few weeks, committee action will increase as they rush to hear and pass bills before their cutoff deadlines.  Fiscal chairs have begun evening meetings on the budget as they anticipate the next revenue forecast on March 15.

Since I won’t be there in person to answer questions this morning, feel free to email me your questions and I’ll try to respond as legislative business permits.

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