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From the VP: Legislative Session Recap

The 2023 legislative session ended on April 23 after the House and Senate passed the state’s biennial operating, capital, and transportation budgets. In so many ways, this year’s session was filled with big wins for the UW and a couple of misses discussed later. On the capital budget side, the legislature made a powerful statement by investing almost $150M to allow the UW to continue its mission renovating the Magnuson Health Sciences T Wing and Anderson Hall; designing and constructing new facilities like Phase II of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ– Intellectual House; helping UW Tacoma acquire land for future expansion and providing funding to help renovate the historic ASUW Shell House, alongside additional funded priorities. On the operating side, the legislature provided additional funding to grow a local, more diverse STEM workforce; added more state support for staff compensation; and allocated funding to develop a clean energy transformation strategy for the Seattle campus. The budget also included strong investments for UW Medicine including $150M in one-time for UW Medical Center and Harborview and $12.4M in one-time funding for the Behavioral Health Teaching Facility as well as funding for the programs like the UW Center for Indigenous Health, Family Medicine Residency Network and firearm injury research.

Yet, my excitement around these significant investments is tempered by two critical pieces that did not make the cut this year. Our funding request for the UW School of Dentistry Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program expansion would have doubled the annual cohort of RIDE students from eight to 16 per year and ensured that they spend two academic years based in Spokane. We know there is a critical need for more dentists, particularly in rural areas, and expanding this program in Eastern Washington would have been a fantastic step toward bridging that gap.

Additionally, while we did see an increase in the state portion of the compensation fund split, up to 60% from 58% in the previous biennium, we are behind every other public university in the state when it comes to state support for UW staff salaries. This is particularly distressing when the UW continues to receive record demand from Washington students, and insufficient state funding levels mean we cannot offer admission to as many students who qualify for admission. Without stronger state investment from the legislature, the UW must rely more on students’ tuition for compensation leaving less for critical investments in other areas.

Despite this, 2023 was a good session for the University and I am grateful for the hard work of my Office of State Relations staff, as well as the UW leaders and students who took time to visit Olympia and urge the legislature to fund our requests. I know my staff is already thinking about how they will approach the critical pieces that ended up on the budget office’s cutting room floor during next year’s session.

For a more detailed breakdown of the budget highlights, I recommend checking out the Office of State Relations’ most recent blog post.