Published Jun. 13, 2014
By Ty Beaver, Tri-City Herald
State officials are already expecting a shortfall in the next budget and higher education could take a big hit.
state needs at least another $1 billion in additional revenue to meet
most of the expected additional spending needs for the 2015-17 biennium,
according to the Office of Financial Management.
college and university officials have already been told, along with some
other state agencies, to begin preparing budget requests that include
as much as a 15 percent reduction ahead of Gov. Jay Inslee developing a
It's too soon to say where those cuts will be,
but higher education officials said it's a disheartening development
coming only a year after the state had begun to better support their
"We can't (make cuts) based on efficiencies anymore,"
said Marty Brown, executive director for the Washington State Board of
Community and Technical Colleges.
The economy has been recovering,
officials said, noting that Washington has one of the best job growth
rates in the country. But that hasn't significantly boosted consumption,
so sales tax revenue isn't keeping up.
And the state's financial
obligations just keep piling on. Pension costs, debt service expenses
and maintaining spending for social programs are adding up to hundreds
of millions dollars.
The biggest looming bill? The Washington
Supreme Court's mandate to increase funding for K-12 education, commonly
called the McCleary decision. The Office of Financial Management
estimates keeping up with the court's order will cost between $1.2
billion and $2 billion in the next biennium.
And K-12 education
would be largely protected in a potential budget reduction, along with
the state's pension system, Medicaid, courts and nursing homes, because
of constitutional and federal requirements, officials said. That leaves
higher education, the state's corrections system, human services and
smaller budgets such as transportation and natural resources to absorb
Last year at about this time the state provided an
additional $3.1 billion to the public universities and community college
system, a 12 percent increase compared with the previous biennium. That
led WSU and Columbia Basin College to freeze student tuition after
years of increasing it to keep up with costs.
CBC also restored
some cut salaries because of the influx and WSU was able to move forward
some initiatives such as developing medical programs at its Spokane
campus and supporting more engineering and computer science students.
Legislature really moved mountains to invest in higher education and we
need to continue down that path," said Chris Mulick, WSU's director of
While funding all aspects of education is
important, college and university officials said cutting into higher
education has the potential to "starve the pipeline of workers," said
CBC President Rick Cummins. The college likely would look at cutting out
programs or courses as there are few places to cut that won't directly
"Taking money from the higher education system just weakens the economy," he said.
colleges and universities, along with the other affected agencies, will
be meeting with budget officials in the coming weeks to work out their
But everyone will be keeping their eyes on next
week's revenue forecast and the one in the fall that will inform
Inslee's recommendation to the Legislature.
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