Initial Thoughts: House Budget Proposals Released

WASHINGTON’S HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES released its operating and capital budget proposals last Friday, and the Senate proposal is hot off the press. Once the details of the Senate proposal have risen to the surface, budget negotiations will move forward in hopes of funding a compromise prior to the scheduled end of session on April 24.

House Operating Budget

There are many reasons to applaud our House lawmakers for the generous higher ed reinvestment proposed in the House Operating Budget. Here’s an overview:

  • A continued tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students.
  • Faculty and staff salary increases.
  • Increased funding for financial aid.
  • Medical education investments, including:
    • A transfer of $4.68 million from WSU to the UW in order to maintain the UW Medicine program in Spokane. WSU was granted authority to start its own independent medical school, but this transfer helps ensure that funding for the UW Medicine program will not be harmed in the process.
    • $3 million for a much-needed increase in medical residencies in Washington State.
    • $3.8 million in funding for the Health Professionals Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program, which targets loan repayments for students who elect to serve rural and underserved communities in primary care or adolescent mental health.

In order to pay for these and other investments, the budget also includes several increases in revenue, including the implementation of a capital gains tax. How and if lawmakers need to raise revenue will be a source of debate in the coming weeks.

UW Impact represents a diverse array of UW alums who hold many different political values. We support stable, reliable sources of revenue for all of our state institutions, but we realize there can be many ways to achieve this goal. We also recognize that our lawmakers need the political support to make the often challenging decisions towards this goal. While we can’t speak for our collective alumni community – we do urge every alum and higher ed advocate to contact their lawmakers directly. They must know what proposal YOU support, especially in the politically fraught days ahead.

A reinvestment is a welcome change after years of serious damage done during the recession. This proposed budget represents another step forward in demonstrating the value of public higher education as a worthy investment of limited resources, but the merits of its funding mechanisms will need to endure tough debates in the days ahead.

Capital Budget

As generous as the House operating budget was, the capital budget proposal appears far less so. The proposal includes none of the major capital investments requested by the UW.

While the capital budget did provide $4 million for the Nursing Simulation Lab, and a few other smaller investments, the larger investments in high-demand fields went unmet.

UW’s #1 Capital Request: New Computer Science & Engineering Building:

  • Request: $40 million
  • Proposed appropriation: $6 million in 2015-17 biennium, $33 million in the next biennium.

This was a significant disappointment considering that the UW ‘s fast-growing department has run out of space and is currently turning away two thirds of interested students. Tech leaders of companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Zillow all recently signed a letter urging lawmakers to provide $40 million of the $110 million cost to construct a new building. While $6 million is a start, the $33 million appropriation in the following biennium is not secure and doesn’t represent a reliable source of funding.

UW’s #2 capital request: New Life Sciences building

  • Request: $40 million
  • Proposed appropriation = $0

The capital plan included no mention of a life sciences building investment at all. Yet biology is the highest-demand major in the state, and is the largest undergraduate major on UW’s campus. The new building was designed to help the department recruit and retain top students and faculty through improved research/teaching labs and technology.

Other Capital Notes

In addition, the capital committee did not fund either the $18 million UW Tacoma request for its Urban Solutions Center or the $11.2 million requested for an environmental and marine research vessel. These capital requests are critical to meeting the UW’s current needs, and to grow tomorrow’s generation of students. This year the UW received a record-breaking number of student applications. Investing in our public university is critical for our state’s future.

We are hopeful that the capital funding will improve over the course of budget negotiations. We are also anxious to see whether the Senate will prioritize funding for these critical investments.

Stay Tuned

Now it’s time to digest the Senate proposals, and figure out what steps can be taken towards compromise. In the end, we will need our advocates to help us remind lawmakers about the need for a higher ed reinvestment. Stay tuned in the critical days ahead!