Wednesday, March 7, 2012

House and Senate budgets differ on amounts cut from higher education

The House and Senate continued to wrangle over the 2012-13 supplemental budget this week, with cuts to higher education one element of contention.
In a dramatic move Saturday, March 3, Senate Republicans, joined by three Democrats, passed by one vote a budget that differed substantially from the one approved earlier in the week by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
That initial Senate budget proposal, which contained no appropriations cuts for higher education, had been applauded by college and university presidents throughout the state, whose institutions have been hit hard by successive budget cuts since the state’s financial crisis began in 2008.
The version that passed the Senate on Saturday, however, would cut higher education appropriations 1.4 percent, or about $37.5 million from the original 2011-13 biennial budget.  The proposed House budget, passed Feb. 29, would cut higher education funding 2.1 percent, or about $59 million from the original biennial budget.
Details of how the cuts would be apportioned by institution are available in a table prepared by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. The original 2011-13 biennial budget appropriated a total of $2.75 billion for higher education.
It remains to be seen what the final budget will look like. The House and Senate budget bills (ESHB 2127 and ESB 5967are now in the Ways and Means Committees of the opposite chambers, where a compromise is being sought prior to the Thursday adjournment deadline for the regular legislative session.
Last week, when the initial Senate budget was proposed, University of Washington President Michael Young said in a statement posted on the UW website: “The Senate [Ways & Means Committee chair’s] budget proposal released today puts a halt to four years of public disinvestment in higher education.  The Senate is to be commended to taking this bold stance.”
 A statement posted Monday by Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, struck a cautious note and underscored the institution’s strong ties to legislators on both sides of the aisle. 
“We will work closely with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to promote a budget that protects, to the greatest extent possible, funding for our students and our university and a budget that places our state on a solid financial footing for the future,” Floyd’s statement said.
The Senate budget would levy proportionally larger cuts in the UW and WSU budgets as offsets to increased non-resident tuition revenue, cuts to the UW College of the Environment and WSU’s College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources, and a $5 million transfer from each to the State Toxics Control Account.
A statement posted Monday by The Evergreen State College noted that the Senate supplemental budget also includes reduced authority to waive tuition as one alternative to awarding student financial aid. That budget provision is contingent upon passage of separate legislation, SB 6617, which would limit tuition waivers to no more than 16 percent of gross authorized operating fees at the UW, and lower percentages at the other baccalaureate institutions. That bill filed, Feb. 27, currently is in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
The Senate budget would cut general fund appropriations for the state’s community and technical colleges by about $20 million less than the House budget version, but CTCs would also see their authority to waive tuition reduced by about $13 million. 
The budget that passed the Senate Saturday provides funding for student financial aid at basically the same level as the version proposed by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, including no cuts the State Need Grant Program and no suspension of the State Work Study program. 
The Senate supplemental budget also would provide an additional $3.8 million to both the UW and WSU to expand enrollments in engineering programs at the institutions.               

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