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.
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.
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.”
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.
The editorial refers to a “historic disinvestment” in state universities and community colleges since 2008. WSU has seen its state appropriation cut by 52 percent in just a few short years, which has been only partially offset by higher tuition.
The editorial also supports regulatory reforms that would ease some burdens placed upon the system.
After two days in Spokane and then Ellensburg, House Higher Education Committee Chairman Larry Seaquist, ranking minority member Larry Haler and committee member Susan Fagan visited WSU Tri-Cities Thursday and it generated this news story.
While discussion certainly turned to the state’s budget problems, the visit served as a bit of a 101 session for members about the history and role of the Richland branch campus. Members visited the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Lab, learned about university activities in the wine sciences and engaged in robust conversation about collaborations with Columbia Basin College and other partners.
The committee’s formal Chautauqua Series continues Oct. 12 and 13 in Seattle and Mt. Vernon, respectively.
We’re on the road again today – more on that later – so we’re late to getting to the news that Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday called for a 30-day special legislative session to commence Nov. 28.
That would come 11 days after the next quarterly forecast of state tax collections. The most recent one released last week reopened a budget gap on the order of $1.3 billion.
It’s thought the next forecast could widen that, although it was repeatedly stated last week that if forecasters thought it would get worse, they would forecast it now. Then consider that lawmakers will want to leave something in reserve after re-balancing the budget. And that has got people talking about a $2 billion problem.
If handled through spending cuts alone, that $2 billion would have to come from an increasingly narrow portion of the state budget that is available to cut. How big that slice is is open to discussion. This Seattle Times article suggests it could be as large as $8.7 billion. Other estimates have suggested it’s as low as $6 billion.
Either way, higher education is highly vulnerable because its state appropriation falls entirely within that space.
The House Higher Education Committee kicked off its interim road show Tuesday at WSU Spokane and is meeting today at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
Under the dark cloud of additional budget reductions on the horizon, the committee is using its so-called Chautauqua Series to learn about how the various higher education sectors are meeting regional needs and exploring a series of educational attainment challenges.
In Spokane, the focus was on meeting the needs of the aerospace and health care industries while helping students transition through the higher education system. Today, the focus is on agriculture, renewable energy and access for underserved student populations.
But in light of last week’s revenue forecast, which fell by $1.4 billion through the end of the current two-year budget cycle, the budget problem looms large. And it was suggested yesterday that the portion of the state budget that could legally be cut has been reduced to somewhere near $6 billion, or about only 20 percent of the near general fund operating budget. Higher education falls within that $6 billion, making it extremely vulnerable for major cuts.
The state anticipates $1.4 billion less in tax revenue through July 1, 2013, than previously thought, opening a new deficit close to $1.3 billion just months after the Legislature balanced the budget with widespread cuts.
That’s according to this report released this morning by the state’s Revenue and Forecast Council. It remains to be seen how the Legislature will react. If nothing else, the Council is scheduled to release its next forecast November 17. The governor will base her supplemental budget proposal on that report.
Much of the sharp downturn in revenue expectations is being driven by national and international forces, despite some positive developments in Washington’s aerospace and software industries and for Washington exports.
“We are in the fragile aftermath of the Great Recession where a return to normalcy seems like a mirage in the desert—the closer we get to it, the further it moves away,” the report reads.
Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, left little room for optimism.
“I see no end in sight,” Raha said. “The best we can hope for is we don’t slip back into another recession.”
The state’s bipartisan Redistricting Commission released a quartet of proposals – one from each of the Legislature’s four caucuses – this week as part of its once-a-decade efforts to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries.
Lines are redrawn after every U.S. Census to ensure that each district is of roughly equal size to ensure appropriate representation in the Legislature and Congress. Due to above average population growth, Washington was awarded a 10th congressional district this year, adding some additional complexity to this year’s redistricting efforts.