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WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

State reserve accounts fall again

The state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council this morning adopted a new projection of tax collections that dropped anticipated reserve accounts from about $730 million to just $163 million. This comes not even a day after the governor signed the state’s new two year budget into law.

You can find the forecast here.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that the budget cycle doesn’t end until June 30, 2013, leaving lots of time for economic improvement that could push the state onto stronger fiscal ground. The Council is due to issue a new forecast on September 15 and another on November 17.

The latter forecast is the one the governor will use to write the supplemental budget she’ll propose to the Legislature in December. Lawmakers will then convene in January to draft their own plans for a budget rewrite.

Governor signs operating, capital budgets

Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday afternoon signed into law the operating and capital budgets approved by the Legislature last month.

TVW live blogged the event and you can read about the governor’s comments here.

There were no major surprises for WSU in the veto messages for either bill. You can check out a breakdown of what both budgets mean for WSU here.

And just as a bow is finally put on the arduous process of writing the next two year budget, the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council is scheduled to issue a new forecast of state tax collections at 10 a.m. this morning. It’s quite possible, given news this week of a sudden downturn in actual tax collections over the past month, that the forecast will eat into the reserve left by the Legislature in the newly signed budget.

We’ll have a full report later today.

Tax collections fall by $70 million

A new report out this morning from the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council indicates that tax collections for the past month fell short of expectations by $69.7 million due to an “unexpectedly large” slowdown in economic activity. You can read the report here.

The report that really matters, the state’s quarterly revenue forecast, is due to be issued on Thursday. It’s these quarterly reports that are used as the basis for determining the state’s fiscal health. A drop in anticipated revenues will effectively reduce the state’s anticipated ending fund balance.

The budget adopted by the Legislature last month and due to be signed by the governor on Wednesday leaves $723 million in reserve, though only $442 million of it is unrestricted.

Today’s report for the May 11 through June 10 period actually would have been worse had it not been for a one-time payment of taxes on activity that occurred during a prior period.

And total collections for the quarter are still above expectations but only because of a windfall provided by a program that allowed delinquent taxpayers to pay past due taxes without penalties.

Recapping a busy week

WSU’s government relations team spent much of this week in Pullman, keeping us away from the blog. And in that time a number of noteworthy happenings occurred.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a series of bills of great interest to higher education that were approved in the recently completed legislative session.

House Bill 1795 gives universities authority to set their own tuition for eight years while also increasing financial aid obligations. The governor vetoed a series of provisions that would have extended additional operational flexibility to state universities as it relates to procurement.

The very same day, WSU’s Board of Regents approved a 16 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year for resident undergraduates. The increase mirrors what was authorized in the state budget recently approved by the Legislature and due to be signed by the governor next week.  The board did not exercise authority provided under House Bill 1795.

Also signed into law was House Bill 2088 creating the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a public/private partnership designed to provide near term scholarships for low and middle-income students while also establishing an endowment to provide a funding source for future scholarships.

The governor also signed Senate Bill 5182, which will eliminate the Higher Education Coordinating Board on July 1, 2012, and transfer its duties to other entities. A steering committee will recommend what duties go where. The Legislature will then have to act on those recommendations during its 2012 legislative session.

Governor: WSU Vancouver ‘part of the heart of the community’

Governor Chris Gregoire told nearly 150 community leaders, students, faculty, staff and others at WSU Vancouver Thursday that the branch campus and university at large are keys to the state’s economic recovery.

On campus to tour the Engineering and Computer Science Building –scheduled to open in January 2012 – Gregoire hailed the university’s increasing commitment to producing engineering degrees, its collaboration with Clark College and noted that it could be tempting to take WSU Vancouver for granted.

“It hasn’t been here that long and now it’s part of the heart of the community,” Gregoire said.

In recapping the recently completed legislative session, Gregoire recounted deep cuts made to higher education and explained how students and families will be asked to help keep institutions whole through tuition rates that, while higher, will still lag behind schools in comparable states.

“This great institution cannot continue to absorb the cuts,” the governor said.

She said the community and its developing high tech economy is situated well to rebound from the recession “but without WSU Vancouver I don’t think it would be what it is today or what it can be tomorrow.”

Governor to visit WSU Vancouver

Governor Chris Gregoire is slated to tour the new Engineering and Computer Science Building at WSU Vancouver Thursday afternoon before a reception with community and business leaders, students, faculty, staff and others.

The $38.5 million building is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in January 2012, providing 58,000 square feet of new classroom, office and laboratory space. It was originally sought to meet the engineering and high tech needs of Southwest Washington’s regional economy.

We’ll post an update following the event.

First Gentleman visits WSU Tri-Cities

Welcome back from the Memorial Day Weekend!

On May 18th, First Gentleman Mike Gregoire signed a Memo of Understanding at WSU Tri-Cities designating it as a Veteran Supportive Campus.  Due in large part to the services available on campus to veterans, student veterans, and their families, veterans now make up 10 percent of the student body, a number that continues to steadily grow.  WSU’s commitment to helping all Washingtonians achieve higher education is reflected in this momentous occasion.

Please visit the WSU Tri-Cities Office of Veterans Affairs webpage for a slideshow and full article of the event.

First Gentleman Mike Gregoire signs the Veteran Supportive Campus MOU at WSU Tri-Cities

First Gentleman Mike Gregoire, WSU-Tri-Cities Cancellor Vicky Carwein, Deputy Director of the WA State Deptarment of Veterans Affairs Alfie Alvarado-Ramos and President Elson S. Floyd hold the signed MOU along with student veterans and veterans from the community

Legislature adopts budgets, adjourns for the year

Gavels fell on the Legislature’s first special session Wednesday night sending lawmakers home after 135 grueling days.

The House and Senate both gave final approval to new two-year operating and capital budgets on the session’s final day. In short, the operating budget cuts $108 million, or 26 percent, from WSU’s state appropriation and provided authorization for consecutive tuition increases of 16 percent, which would reduce the net cut to about 5.2 percent.

It’s worth noting that WSU’s state appropriation for the next two years is $1 million smaller than the one the Legislature appropriated for the university 20 years ago.

Overall, the Legislature left $723 million in reserve. Of that, $442 million is unrestricted. The next state revenue forecast is June 16.

The capital budget most notably provided $35 million for WSU’s $71 million Biomedical and Health Sciences Building in Spokane. The $72 million budget for WSU also included $24.3 million for preservation activities.

WSU Sleep Researcher Testifies Before Congress

Dr. Gregory Belenky, director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Aviation, Operations, Safety and Security subcommittee yesterday on the importance of sleep and air traffic controllers’ effectiveness on the job.

Dr. Belenky shakes hands with WA Senator Maria Cantwell after the hearing.

Dr. Belenky (center) discusses the hearing with FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt (left) and Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel III.  Also testifying at the hearing was National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi.

Dr. Belenky’s research in the sleep lab at WSU Spokane supports the idea of providing air traffic controllers with on the job napping built into their work schedule.  The sub-committee may consider new regulations on the FAA to control safety oversight as a result of the recent increase in air-traffic controller errors.

Read a full report on the hearing here: The Seattle PI
Read more about Dr. Belenky here: WSU Today story