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WSU formalizes 2012 legislative agenda

Washington State University’s 2012 legislative agenda promotes four key priorities to maintain the land grant research university’s commitment to advance the state. You can find it here and also on our website.

Priorities include protecting public higher education in the budget, helping WSU meet the needs of the aerospace industry, complete the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building in Spokane and allowing for an array of operational flexibilities that will allow the university to operate more nimbly.

Other priorities will be addressed by WSU during the upcoming session as well. Though the 2012 legislative session isn’t slated to begin until January, a special session has been called to begin Nov. 28.

Tax collections dip, forecast due Thursday

State tax collections for the past month fell $22 million shy of expectations, according to this report issued this morning by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The Olympian’s Brad Shannon filed this report on it here.

This comes just days before the council releases its quarterly forecast of tax revenues which is set for 10 a.m. Thursday. That report will be the one used by the governor, and at least initially by the Legislature, when they begin crafting their budget proposals. The governor’s is expected to be released sometime next week.

Tax collections since the last forecast have generally hit the target and are down by just $11.8 million. But state economist Arun Raha continues to warn against large downside risks. Those continued worries could push the forecast lower.

In fact, Shannon reported over the weekend that one key lawmaker is predicting the forecast could drop by something on the order of $100 million, expanding the state’s $2 billion shortfall.

Forecast: Economic outlook unchanged

The state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast this afternoon approved a new economic forecast that is largely unchanged from the September forecast.

It is noteworthy because the economic forecast generally informs the next state revenue forecast, due out Nov. 17. It’s that forecast that will tell state budget writers how much money they have, or in this case, don’t have. The state is currently facing a budget shortfall nearing $2 billion.

Based on today’s report, there’s little hope the Nov. 17 revenue forecast will offer a surge in anticipated tax collections to reduce that shortfall. As of Wednesday, actual tax collections were $2 million below what was forecast in September, a tiny variance.

Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, cited continued economic uncertainty in Europe and disappointing employment growth as major contributors to the significant risks still facing the state economy. He noted that, should Greece default on its sovereign debt, it could set off a chain of events that could lead to a banking crisis in the U.S., sending the U.S. economy back into recession.

Proposal suggests 15 percent cut to higher education

Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning outlined a series of budget cut proposals that, if enacted, would reduce WSU’s state appropriation by another 15 percent. That’s on top of a 52 percent reduction over the past several years.

In a statement issued shortly after the release, WSU President Elson S. Floyd warned of deep impacts.

“The Governor’s proposed budget would have devastating consequences across our state with huge impacts on higher education, K-12 education, and health and human services,” he said. “This budget does not reflect core Washington values. At Washington State University, it would dramatically and directly impact our students. This disinvestment in our future generations undermines the future of Washington State. I will vigorously oppose these cuts at every level.”

The governor laid out a series of proposed cuts that exceed what is commonly referred to as the state’s $2 billion budget problem, highlighting specific cuts she’s tentatively chosen to include in the budget proposal she’ll announce next month. At the low end, the governor suggested higher education cuts of 10 percent, or $111 million. At the high end, the document suggests cuts of 20 percent, or $222 million.

But it also identifies a preferred cut of 15 percent, or $166 million. The document does not state how those cuts would be distributed within the higher education community. The document also identifies an $8 million cut to suspend the state’s Work Study program as one that is likely to be included in the governor’s budget.

The governor also laid out a scenario in which the State Need Grant would be eliminated to save $303 million and alternatives to that to make smaller cuts to it by reducing benefits in various ways. But she did not list these cuts among those tentatively chosen to be in her budget.

That proposal will be released shortly after the release of the next state revenue forecast, due out Nov. 17.

Quality matters, higher education panel told

MOUNT VERNON — The House Higher Education Committee got an earful today from employers and others who stressed the need for a strong state commitment to produce the educated workforce Washington needs.

That included Bill McSherry from The Boeing Company, who urged lawmakers to promote quality, not just quantity, in the degrees Washington institutions produce.

“It’s not about needing engineers to build airplanes for us,” McSherry said. “It’s about needing really good engineers to build airplanes for us.”

The committee is meeting at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon today in its fourth stop on its Chautauqua Series. The series of meetings across the state is attempting to identify ways to help promote educational attainment at a time that features what Chairman Larry Seaquist called “stunning, radical changes in state funding for higher education.”

The committee already has visited Spokane, Ellensburg and Seattle.

Education cuts could reach $1 billion

As much as $1 billion in education funding could be wiped out in the coming months as the Legislature strains to rebalance the state budget to correct what is commonly referred to as a $2 billion problem.

That’s the message Rep. Larry Seaquist, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, delivered to kick off today’s meeting at Seattle University. It’s the committee’s third of its four-stop Chautauqua Series highlighting key educational attainment objectives in the face of historic budget cuts. The Chautauqua Series continues tomorrow in Mount Vernon.

Today’s focus has centered on getting students through the pipeline to graduation. The upshot of what’s been presented is that the state’s four-year public baccalaureate sector is at the very top or among the top five among all states in getting students through the system most efficiently by just about any measure. But the state is among the worst when it comes to participation rates.

In other words, once students get in the pipeline, they are able to navigate it better than counterparts in just about any other state. But not enough of them get into the pipeline in the first place.

Revenue update: No reprieve yet

The state’s Economic and Forecast Council published a new report today indicating that tax collections over the past month have exceeded expectations by $10.6 million. The main take away: It didn’t get worse.

You can find the report here.

It indicates the state economy is likely to outperform the national economy in the near term. However, despite tax collections coming in at expected levels during the Sept. 11 through Oct. 10 period “there is still considerable downside risk to the forecast if the national economy threatens to slow further or fall back into recession.”

Ground broken for Biomedical and Health Sciences Building

Several hundred turned out Wednesday for the official groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction of the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building at WSU’s Riverpoint campus in Spokane.

Spirited onlookers packed the atrium of the Student Academic Center and students lined the stairways to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. You can check out some of the TV news coverage here and the Spokesman Review’s advance of the event here.

Workers have been moving dirt at the site for weeks.

The Legislature this year approved $35 million to begin construction, about half of what will be needed to finish the project.