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WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

Congressional Update – Budget Resolution and Infrastructure

You have probably read about the large funding packages under consideration in the Congress allocating billions of dollars to physical and human infrastructure. Newspapers across the state are reporting that billions of dollars will be coming to the State of Washington – that might be true – but the process in Congress to get to that point is convoluted, confusing and not immediate, despite what is being reported.

I wanted to take some time and outline the state of play and the process because this is important to WSU. We need to start thinking about how we best coordinate to utilize this once in a lifetime opportunity of federal funding to support our students, institution, and research.

There are several paths currently going forward in Congress addressing federal funding streams:

FY 2022:

The first is the “normal” FY 2022 annual appropriations process.  WSU Office of Federal Relations engages in this process on an annual basis through programmatic request letters and support for increasing funding in federal accounts we utilize to support our research and students.

Every year, Congress is required to consider twelve bills to fund the federal government.  Within these bills, Congress gets into program-by-program funding levels for things like NIH, NSF, Agriculture Research Service, NASA, DOD and more.  For the first time in over a decade, the Congress is also allowing for congressionally directed spending for specific projects, otherwise known as “earmarks”; we are keeping an eye on this process as well.  The key date is September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, when these twelve bills are supposed to be completed.  Both the House and the Senate are currently moving through this process.  Money appropriated through this process is intended to be obligated during the next fiscal year.

It is unlikely that the Congress will complete all its work on the FY 2022 Appropriations process prior to the end of the current fiscal year.  In the event that Congress does not finish by Sept 30, they will likely pass a short-term Continuing Resolution or “CR” that will fund the government at current levels for a specified period of time until such time that they are able to complete the process.

Infrastructure:

In addition to the normal appropriations process, this year the Congress is considering two multi-trillion packages to support investment in infrastructure in response to the economic impact of the pandemic and the spotlight on our country’s infrastructure needs.

The first package is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (“BIF”) – a $1.2 trillion bill that includes reauthorization of existing infrastructure programs as well as $550 billion in new funding for grid and water infrastructure, roads, bridges, transit, rail, broadband, ports and more. This package has been highlighted as part of the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better plan to support physical infrastructure.   BIF was passed by the Senate on August 10 by a bipartisan vote of 69-30 and the bill now heads to the House of Representatives.

The House passed its version of a “hard” infrastructure bill, the INVEST in America Act, on July 1 by a bipartisan vote of 221-201.  The INVEST in America Act is a $715 billion surface transportation reauthorization and water infrastructure bill.

The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between their two approaches.  There will be tremendous pressure for the House to keep the Senate’s version as intact as possible to keep the bipartisan agreement together – any changes the House makes will require the Senate to vote on it again before sending it to the President for his signature.

Complicating passage of the infrastructure bill is the tying of its legislative fate to passage of the other components of the President’s Build Back Better Plan associated with “human” infrastructure i.e., education and workforce training, healthcare, social services & etc. (more below).  Because there is not bipartisan consensus on the need for or scope of these initiatives, the majorities in the House and Senate will utilize a separate legislative process that requires only a simple majority – Budget Reconciliation – to move this through the legislative chambers.  Narrow majorities in both the House and Senate make threading the needle on this pretty difficult.  Members at the progressive end of the political spectrum want to ensure their more moderate colleagues vote to pass the Reconciliation package by delaying a vote on the “hard” infrastructure bill until after the “human” infrastructure package passes.  Conversely, a group of moderates in the House, large enough to prevent passage of anything, is demanding that the “hard” infrastructure bill hit the President’s desk before they will advance the Budget Reconciliation process.

We will get more insight into how this plays out when the House returns for a schedule session the week of August 23rd.  Strong, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate want an infrastructure package signed into law, but we have a ways to go before that will happen.

Budget Resolution and Budget Reconciliation

This second package establishes a Budget Resolution framework of $3.5 trillion in what is being called “human” infrastructure investments to be offset by new tax revenues, health care savings and economic growth.   This package will include provisions that directly affect the federal budget — whether mandatory spending, taxes, or both including;

  • Funding for deferred maintenance
  • Agriculture infrastructure,
  • Funding for infrastructure at our national labs,
  • Climate funding across federal agencies,
  • Extension of tax credits,
  • Expansion of Medicare,
  • Tuition free community colleges,
  • Increased investments in PELL grants,
  • Workforce development,
  • Investments in health care including pandemic preparedness, health equity, native health, and investments in primary care.

This is also where it also gets a bit complicated, as within the Budget Resolution, there are two separate processes underway.

First is the Budget Resolution itself, which is a nonbinding guiding document that does not require the President’s signature to implement, allocates how much money House and Senate Committees are allowed to raise and spend and provides direction on where to allocate the money.  The second is a result of the Budget Resolution process – Budget Reconciliation which is the legislative vehicle that implements the recommendations of the Budget by having the committees of jurisdiction draft bill language specifying how these funds will be allocated.   The Senate passed the Budget Resolution early Wednesday morning (August 11) by a vote of 50-49 sending the recommendations to the House, which is scheduled to come back the week of August 23 to consider the package.

Once the House passes the Budget Resolution, Senate and House committees have soft “deadlines” of Sept. 15 to produce legislation carrying out the instructions.  Because that deadline is in the Budget Resolution, the date, like the document is not binding which means that since the September 15 date is not a statutory requirement – this process will likely take a lot longer.  Regardless, once the committees consider their instructions from the Budget Resolution, they send their proposals to the House and Senate Budget Committees which then assemble all the individual portions into one piece of legislation – the Budget Reconciliation bill – and this document will be considered by both the House and Senate.

Budget Reconciliation is complicated process used rarely to avoid a procedural requirement in the Senate that requires a 60-vote threshold to move legislation. Rules around the Budget Reconciliation process require a simple majority of votes in both the House and Senate to pass – leading to what the respective leadership hopes to be a clearer path to passage of the $3.5 Trillion package.

There is one check point you will start to hear about as this process moves forward: the “Byrd rule,” named after the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.  The “Byrd” rule allows any member of the United States Senate to call a point of order against any provision of (or amendment to) a reconciliation bill that is deemed “extraneous” to the purpose of amending revenue or spending. If a point of order is raised and sustained under the Byrd rule, the offending provision is automatically stripped from the bill unless at least 60 senators vote to waive the rule.   Despite this challenge, the final Budget Reconciliation package will likely be passed by a partisan vote in both bodies of Congress sometime this fall.

The programs being contemplated by both the infrastructure and Reconciliation bills are multi-year, agency led efforts.  Getting money out the door will require planning, and in some cases rulemaking, before being obligated.  This will take some time.

What does this process all mean for WSU then and how is the Office of Federal Relations engaging with our delegation?

It is in this process that WSU will be advocating directly with our members of Congress for funding for deferred maintenance costs, agriculture infrastructure, increasing the Pell grant, funding for workforce training programs, funding for the power grid and grid security, amongst other things.

Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to working with you on behalf of WSU’s students, faculty and staff.

Glynda Becker Fenter

Assistant Vice President for Federal Engagement & Advocacy

Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland’s WSU Puyallup Research & Extension Center Visit

WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center (PREC) was honored to host Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland yesterday where she met with WSU researchers to learn about our research and work impacting the Puget Sound.  CAHNRS Associate Dean of Research Scot Hulbert and PREC Director Todd Murray introduced the Congresswoman to the WSU faculty and students who are doing the work to help protect the Puget Sound through the Washington Stormwater Center and associated Low Impact Development (LID) research installations and the Aquatic Toxicology Lab. Water Quality and Stormwater programs at WSU Puyallup are focused on one of the state’s most critical issues: polluted run-off (stormwater) and the resulting degradation of healthy aquatic environments. These programs result in new and more effective stormwater management practices committed to improve, restore and sustain healthy fresh and marine water systems.

Congresswoman Strickland is serving her first term in Congress representing the PREC and is the co-chair of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus with Congressman Derek Kilmer.  The Caucus, which was founded in 2013 by Rep. Kilmer and then-Representative Denny Heck, focuses on recovering Puget Sound through steps like preventing pollution from urban storm water runoff, protecting and restoring habitat, restoring and re-opening shellfish beds. Rep. Strickland, who was elected in 2020, replaces Heck as Co-Chair.

Congresswoman Strickland was joined by her Senior Outreach Representative Sean Dewitz.

Budget agreement completes funding for WSU medical school

House and Senate budget writers unveiled their operating budget agreement for the 2021-23 biennium Saturday afternoon, providing the final tranche of funding to complete core funding for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

The budget appropriates $3.6 million in the two-year budget to support third- and fourth-year instruction for the 20-seat expansion authorized in 2019. This completes an seven-year legislative campaign to authorize and fund the college.

The compromise budget also $656,000 for maintenance and operation of the new WSU Tri-Cities academic building.

Another $2.1 million was provided for the Washington Soil Health Initiative, originally funded by the Legislature last year but vetoed by the governor to curb spending at the outset of the pandemic.

The compromise budget awaits a vote by both legislative chambers before Sunday’s scheduled adjournment.

The Legislature unveiled its compromised capital budget Thursday and you can read about it here.

Capital budget deal funds top WSU priorities

Priority capital projects for WSU campuses in Vancouver, Pullman and Spokane as well as high priority facility preservation funding for the entire university system are included in a compromise capital budget unveiled by legislative leaders.

This comes as the Legislature seeks to wrap up its 2021 session in time for Sunday’s scheduled adjournment. An operating budget agreement is expected to be made public in the next day.

The capital budget agreement provides $52.6 million to fund the construction of the Life Sciences Building at WSU Vancouver. Some $15 million was provided to design and renovate the Spokane Phase One Building.

In Pullman, the budget funded the $8 million demolition of Johnson Hall, which will make space for the construction of a new USDA building, and $8 million to replace a water tower on campus. Also funded was a $4.9 million request to design and renovate the Clark Hall Research Lab and $500,000 was provided to predesign a new Sciences Building. Some $2.5 million was provided to renovate aging STEM teaching labs.

The compromised budget now awaits a vote by both the Senate and the House before heading to the governor’s desk.

Medical equity training bill signed into law

Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5228 into law Thursday, requiring public medical schools in Washington to establish health equity curriculum as part of their instruction.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Emily Randall, directs medical schools to include instruction on health disparities, intercultural communication skills training, cultural safety training, and implicit bias into their curriculum. It also requires them to establish a goal for student representation and report annually on that goal.

WSU is already in compliance with the curriculum requirements of the bill and supported the measure as it navigated the legislative process. The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine’s instruction already includes components relating to bias, racism in medicine, sexism in medicine, health equity in population health, navigating bias in the workplace, LGBTQ health disparities, ethics of access to health care, caring for patients with disabilities, and health literacy and language barriers.

House budget completes funding for WSU medical school

Budget writers in the House of Representatives on Friday unveiled an operating budget proposal that fully funds the final installment of core funding to complete the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

WSU is requesting $3.6 million in the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1 to complete the 20-seat expansion first authorized in 2019. The request is now included in all three budget proposals authored by the House, Senate and governor. Once the House and Senate vote their versions off the floor, negotiators will meet to iron out a final budget to send to the governor.

The House budget also included $2.1 million to fund the Soil Heath Initiative, a research effort originally funded by the Legislature last year that was vetoed by the governor as part of a broad veto package to curb spending at the outset of the pandemic. It also was funded by the budgets produced by the governor and Senate.

Like the Senate budget, the House avoided furloughs or other funding reductions to higher education, reflecting a rebounding economy that has brought the state’s fiscal outlook back into balance.

Like the Senate, the House also approved upon the governor’s funding level for maintenance and operation of the new WSU Tri-Cities academic building, providing $656,000 of WSU’s $931,000 request.

You can view WSU’s testimony from Friday’s Senate operating budget hearing below:

Senate budgets fund medical school, top capital priorities

Both the House and Senate have begun unveiling their operating and capital budget proposals on the heels of last week’s strong revenue forecast, with the upper chamber so far checking off Washington State University’s top legislative priorities.

The Senate operating budget funded WSU’s $3.6 million request to complete core funding for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, specifically completing the 20-seat expansion authorized in 2019 by providing for third and fourth-year instruction. The budget also provided $656,000 of WSU’s $931,000 request for maintenance and operation funding for the new academic building under construction at WSU Tri-Cities. This expands on the $497,000 proposed in Governor Jay Inslee’s budget proposal last December.

$2.1 million was also provided in the Senate proposal to fund the Soil Health Initiative, a research program initially passed by the Legislature in the 2020 session but vetoed in March in the wake of the budget crisis presented by the pandemic. The governor also funded the initiative in his December budget proposal.

The Senate budget did not include a furlough program for state employees which had been previously included in the governor’s proposal, which preceded last week’s healthy revenue collections outlook.

Both the House and Senate have also released their proposed capital budgets. All three fund the $8 million demolition of Johnson Hall to make way for the construction of a new USDA building, $8 million to replace a water reservoir on the Pullman campus, $52.6 million for construction of the WSU Vancouver Life Sciences Building, and $4.9 million to design and renovate the Clark Hall Research Lab.

The Senate and House capital budgets match the governor’s proposal of $27.8 million for minor works preservation projects and $6.4 million for minor works endeavors to provide small renovations and improvements.

A breakdown of the remaining capital budget priorities still in play for WSU are as follows:

WSU's Capital
Budget Priorities
Governor's Capital Budget:House Capital Budget:Senate Capital Budget:
$15 million to design and renovate the Spokane Phase One BuildingFundedNot fundedFunded
$500,000 for predesign of a new Sciences Building on the Pullman campusFundedNot fundedFunded
$4.9 million for preservation of STEM Teaching Labs at WSU PullmanFundedNot fundedPartially funded ($2.5 million)

The House operating budget is expected to be released tomorrow afternoon. Both chambers will now begin work to advance their proposals before beginning deliberations on final operating and capital budgets before the Legislature adjourns on April 25th.

You can view WSU’s testimony on the Senate’s capital budget below:

Faculty member shares expertise on youth substance abuse

Washington State University researcher Elizabeth Weybright on Thursday briefed the state House Commerce and Gaming Committee on a wide array of university efforts to better understand what works when it comes to preventing youth substance abuse.

Weybright is the interim director of WSU Extension’s Youth and Families unit and an Associate Professor in Human Development. She indicated there’s great efficiency in targeting prevention strategies in young people because there is greater opportunity to address multiple substances at once. She cited work done by the Murrow College of Communication that youth perceptions of substance abuse and normal behaviors heavily influence whether youths will abuse themselves.

She indicated participants in existing programing targeting youths aged 10 to 14 often draw a strong number of those from low income backgrounds who perceive there to be a high availability of prescribed substances.

“Those who need it the most are benefitting the most,” Weybright said.

She noted the university provides fact sheets and other materials designed to translate the latest research to program providers.

You can watch her presentation below.

 

WSU briefs committee on DEI initiatives

Washington State University’s Merrianneeta Nesbitt on Thursday briefed the state Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee on three of the university’s many initiatives designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

The university’s Assistant Director for the Office of Outreach and Education, Nesbitt outlined WSU’s new faculty and staff Community and Equity Certificate Program, calling it a “challenging and engaging journey” for participants. A concept generated by students, this program attempts to create a continuum of practice through a varied series of workshops for participants to choose from that allows them to build their own certificate.

Nesbitt also referenced the university’s DEI Summit program, noting more than 500 participated during the March 4th event.

Finally, she noted the establishment of the university’s Veterans & Military-affiliated Students Advisory Council and its charge to “serve those who’ve served.”

You can watch Nesbitt’s presentation below.

State revenue outlook continues to improve

The state budget outlook continued to improve on Wednesday as the bottom line was improved by $1.3 billion in the current 2019-21 biennium and $1.9 billion in the upcoming 2021-23 biennium, according to an updated state economic and revenue forecast.

This stronger economic outlook is largely credited to two federal stimulus packages that were passed since the last revenue forecast in November along with the trend of increasing tax collection reports in the months since, according to the report. COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been faster than anticipated which encourages some optimism in the report, however concerns to the forecast include the COVID-19 variants that may have an impact on recovery efforts and reopening plans.

While the June 2020 economic forecast presented a three-year budget shortfall thought to be $9 billion, the updated since forecasts have largely closed that gap.

The budget writers in the Senate and House will now begin finalizing their budget proposals for the 2021-23 session. The first of the two proposals could be seen in the next two weeks.