Members of the Economic Revenue Forecast Council met in Olympia this morning and adopted a new forecast of general fund revenue projections that will give budget writers an additional $126.5 million to write the 2007-09 biennial operating budget. Dr. Chang Mook Sohn, the state’s chief revenue forecaster, said that revenue is up due to the overall strength of Washington’s economy, despite a gradual and expected slowdown in real estate activity.
Earlier this week, legislative budget officials received an unexpected windfall of about $200 million due to a drop in caseloads for several state programs such as low income medical care. Combined with today’s revenue forecast adjustment, the legislature has more than $300 million additional resources to use in crafting their budget proposals.
Rep. Helen Sommers (D-Seattle), chair of the House Appropriations Committee will release her 2007-09 biennial budget proposal next Tuesday March 20. Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton), chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee intends to unveil her spending plan the following week.
With House and Senate members virtually locked in their respective chambers passing measures with the urgency of a Wednesday March 14 5:00 p.m. deadline looming in their future, much higher education sideline speculation is focused on operating and capital budget proposals which are due to be unveiled within the next couple of weeks.
While transportation officials are understandably fixated on the outcome of Tuesday’s viaduct advisory election in Seattle, other seasoned Olympia observers are more curious about next Thursday morning’s meeting of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council which will adopt the next quarterly forecast of state general fund revenues. Fiscal insiders expect only a minor upturn in state revenue collections in the 2007-09 biennium which would seem of little consequence on a base of $30 billion in revenues. But in Olympia where all budgets are won or lost on the margin, even a minor forecast change can spell gloom or doom for budget writers depending on which way the revenue needle is pointing.
Since the Governor’s budget was released in December, many legislators have expressed mild frustration that “the Governor spent all the money” and left little room in the budget for legislative priorities. Since that time, however, state entitlement program forecasts have continued to trend downward, creating more than $100 million of additional room for legislative budget writers to address the spending priorities of their own members. An additional $100 million or so of additional revenue in the March 15 forecast update could provide just enough budget breathing space to insure smooth negotiations between the House, Senate and Governor’s office.
The House is tentatively scheduled to release their operating and capital spending proposals the week of March 19. The Senate should follow with their budget blueprints the week after leaving what should be ample time to negotiate a final budget in time for the April 22 adjournment deadline.
SB 5384, the Senate version of the UW’s request legislation to expand our ability to issue long term debt locally easily cleared the State Senate yesterday 46-0. There was no debate or opposition to the measure which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration following floor cut-off next week. The House version of the debt authority bill (HB 1398) is already in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Monday was the deadline for Senate and House fiscal committees to move bills from their chamber of origin which are not deemed “necessary to implement the budget.” This means that many of the bills we have been tracking as a University are now considered “dead” for the 2007 legislative session.
To see which bills have survived the cut-off, check out the Bills of Significant Interest link in the Spotlight section. I have recently updated the status of each piece of legislation along with any revised UW positions on the bills.
While I don’t have time to go through a complete list of all the bills that didn’t make it out of committee, I will try and highlight some of the more important bills we have been tracking that are no longer viable.
SB 5514 and HB 1875 would have included the UW and other four year schools in a detailed study of compensation and personnel practices tied to the long-standing problems of part-time community and technical college faculty. These bills did not pass out of their respective policy committees. Much of the substance of SB 5514 was included in SB 5020 which did pass out of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Research Committee but died Monday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
SB 5322 which would have required OFM to identify sites and develop programs for a new four year university in Snohomish-Island-Skagit county died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Jean Berkey, the prime sponsor of the measure has indicated she will try to secure the funding that was included in this bill in the Senate budget which will be unveiled at the end of March.
SB 5013 which would have imposed a limit on all tuition increases of no more than 5.5% died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. A bill to establish the Washington Institute of Technology by combining branch campuses in Vancouver, Bothell and Tri-Cities died in the House Higher Education Committee. Bills to establish preferences for veteran-owned businesses in state contracting did not pass by the established deadlines.
Finally, a bill which would have transferred responsibility for the Wellington Hills property to the Department of General Administration for the purpose of selling the land died in the House Capital Budget Committee.
Yesterday during the cut-off hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Senator Joe Zarelli (R-Ridgefield) successfully hung an amendment on a measure which would make a new life sciences research entity in Spokane area potentially eligible for Life Sciences Discovery Fund monies.
SSB 5616 would create a health sciences and services authority in Spokane with the intention of using the Institute for Systems Medicine to expand health sciences research and biotechnology development in the area. Funding is intended to come from the state general fund in the form of a state tax diversion of approximately $5 to $6 million per year.
The Zarelli amendment would instead permit funding for the authority to come from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund instead of the state general fund. The problem this creates is that the Fund (which is estimated to be about $35 million per year beginning in 2008), is intended to be competitive and awarded to the most meritorious projects as determined through a peer review process. The amendment potentially creates ambiguity about whether the Fund would be used to fund the ongoing operational costs of a new research entity as opposed to a being solely available for competitive research proposals.
As a member of the Life Sciences Fund Coalition, the UW is concerned about this amendment to SSB 5616 and will work with other coalition partners to insure that the Life Sciences Discovery Fund remains available for competitive research project funding.
I’m heading out of town for a couple of days to visit some old friends in California so blogging will be sparse until next week. Have a great weekend.
Today is the 52nd day of the legislative session, the official halfway point for 2007 and the first real cut-off deadline for standing committee action. After today, Senate and House policy committees cannot take action on measures from their chamber of origin. This is “parliamentary speak” for “if it isn’t out of a policy committee by today, it’s dead for this session.”
Of particular interest to the UW are progress of the Governor’s higher education Washington Learns bills which are SB 5806 (Schoesler) and HB 1882 (Wallace). Both of these measures designate the Global Challenge States as the benchmarks for measuring per student funding progress for institutions of higher education and create a multi-year plan for increasing both state appropriations and tuition (up to 7% per year for resident undergraduates) to close competitive funding gaps. The bills also establish new financial aid scholarship programs and expand eligibility under the State Need Grant program.
SB 5806 easily cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee on February 20 and will be heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee tomorrow. HB 1882 passed out of the House Higher Education Committee on Monday of this week, but on a party line vote of 6-3. It has now been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it could be scheduled for a hearing this weekend.
The UW has also been working to amend itself out of legislation dealing with the problems of parttime faculty members in higher education – a problem more pronounced in the two year college system. The House version of this bill, HB 1875 did not pass out of the House Higher Education Committee. In the Senate, SB 5514 did not pass out of the Senate Higher Education Committee when they ceased meeting last week. However, the substance of that measure was amended onto SB 5020 and passed out of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Research Committee yesterday afternoon. The measure was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the UW continues to oppose the measure.
To keep track of the progress of legislation of interest to the University, check out the link under my website Spotlight section on Bills of Significant Interest.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education met tonight to act on their proposed 2007-09 operating budget recommendations for early learning, K-12 and higher education.
As expected, the budget recommendations cleared the committee on a party line vote. The recommendations will now be formally considered by the full committee as they finalize their budget recommendations over the next several weeks.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education released their operating budget recommendations today at a 12:15 p.m. press conference in Olympia. Committee chair Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton) was joined by several of her House Democratic colleagues including Rep. Ruth Kagi, Rep. Joe McDermott, Rep. Pat Sullivan, Rep. Deb Wallace, Rep. Dave Quall, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Rep. Helen Sommers for the unveiling of the $17.4 billion spending proposal covering early learning, K-12 and higher education.
For the University of Washington, the budget news was very good. The committee budget recommendations generally followed Governor Gregoire’s December outline, with funding included for compensation increases, additional enrollments (including additional high demand slots and expansion of UW Tacoma and UW Bothell), support for global health, the Spokane WWAMI/RIDE expansion and a number of other items.
The major policy difference was the subcommittee’s decision to limit tuition increases for resident undergraduates at the UW to 5% per year instead of the 7% per year recommended by the Governor. The subcommittee budget, however, did include an additional $6.1 million in state funding to “make-up” for the additional revenue that will be lost due to 2% lower tuition level.
The subcommittee will take public testimony on this budget proposal at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. They will vote on the recommendations at an 8:00 p.m. hearing tomorrow night. The recommendations will be forwarded to the full House Appropriations Committee which will unveil their 2007-09 biennial budget recommendations in mid to late March.
The next three days here in Olympia will feature round the clock hearings as standing policy committees in the House and Senate scramble to pass legislation before their Wednesday Februrary 28 5:00 p.m. deadline. Unless it is related to the state budget, most bills that do not pass by this date are considered dead for the 2007 legislative session.
Against this backdrop, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education is expected to release its early learning, K-12 and higher education budget recommendations at a press conference during the lunch hour today.
As soon as we have specific information on these budget recommendations we will post detail on the Capitol Update Blog.