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WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

State Update: Looking back, looking ahead

Things are ghostly quiet in the state capital today as the second week of the Legislature’s 30-day special session has now come and gone. And while an end is not yet in sight, there are a few noteworthy items to pass along.

First, the governor announced this week that a tax amnesty program designed to give businesses a chance to catch up on their back taxes penalty free netted far, far more than was anticipated. For the state, it’s a windfall of $182 million which can be used to help narrow the spending gap between House and Senate budget proposals.

The Olympian’s Brad Shannon has a good recap here.

Also of note, the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced House Bill 1981 after making key changes that would allow WSU to continue to offer a defined contribution plan to new professional staff. The underlying bill would have directed such staffers to participate in the state’s PERS system. WSU and other state universities argued that would prevent staff from being offered a portable retirement plan that they could easily transfer assets from as their career path takes them to other jobs with defined contribution retirement plans down the road.

The bill, with all of its changes, now must be approved by the full Senate before being sent back to the House.

Finally, there’s been lots of work going on behind the scenes on House Bill 1795, which would grant state universities a four-year window in which they could set their own tuition rates subject to a series of conditions. A vote in the House could come as soon as early next week. So stay tuned.

Governor signs branch campus, biofuels, purchasing bills

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Friday afternoon signed a trio of bills of interest to WSU.

House Bill 1422 authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a demonstration project involving the use of biomass in the production of jet fuel. WSU, an international leader in this endeavor, is to be consulted as the project is developed.

House Bill 1586 authorizes doctoral degrees to be offered at branch campuses. WSU became involved in the issue at the outset when the university first considered placing a doctor of nursing practice degree program at its Vancouver campus.

Finally, House Bill 1663 relieves universities of requirements to purchase prescribed amounts of services and equipment from the Department of Corrections. It was one of a series of bills introduced this year in hopes of relieving universities of regulatory burdens.

Recapping bills approved by the legislature

With the mayhem of the final days of the regular session given way to the relative calm of special session, it seemed like a good time to step back and take a look at the bills of most notable interest to WSU and the higher education community that have advanced to the governor’s desk.

So, here they are, in numerical order.

  • House Bill 1586 authorizes branch campuses to offer doctoral degrees.
  • House Bill 1663 removes the requirement that universities purchases prescribed amounts of equipment and services from the Department of Corrections.
  • House Bill 1808, which was signed last week, requires high schools to offer dual credit courses to give students the opportunity to earn college credit. Universities would have to develop a list of courses for which credit could be given should incoming students achieve a qualifying score on proficiency exams or demonstrating certain competencies.
  • House Bill 1822, signed into law this week, requires the Higher Education Coordinating Board to recognize and integrate an online, nonprofit university.
  • Senate Bill 5304 would require the state’s Caseload Forecast Council to project how many students will be eligible for the College Bound Scholarship program.
  • Senate Bill 5442, which the governor signed last week, allows universities the option of developing programs that would allow academically qualified students to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years.
  • Senate Bill 5636 is the bill that creates a pathway for WSU to gain management control of the North Puget Sound University Center in Everett by 2014.

State STARS funding helps land smart grid expert

Washington State University announced today that it has hired an internationally-renowned expert in smart grid technologies as a Boeing Distinguished Professor.

You can read more about it here.

Championed by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, STARS funding is designed to help the state lure high caliber faculty in new economy fields.  WSU has worked in Olympia to maintain funding for the program in the face of major budget cuts.

In other news, the Legislature reconvened without fanfare this morning for the first of a 30-day special session. The Senate Ways & Means Committee is meeting this afternoon to consider several bills but the day has been otherwise uneventful as members get their bearings and plot out a path forward.

Special session to begin Tuesday

Gov. Chris Gregoire today called for a special legislative session to begin Tuesday. You can read about it here.

The Legislature was expected to adjourn its 105-day regular session this afternoon, two days early ahead of the Easter holiday.

The news is anything but surprising. Faced with a budget shortfall of historic proportions and on the heels of deep cuts made over the past 18 months, lawmakers have strained to carve out more savings. The Senate approved its version of the operating budget just this week, leaving precious little time to reach agreement with the House.

Lawmakers also must reach accord on a capital budget during the special session. And there remain dozens of bills deemed necessary to implement the budget that also remain in play. Among them are two proposals, Senate Bill 5915 and House Bill 1795, that would grant universities temporary tuition setting authority.

North Puget Sound legislation sent to Governor

This morning the Senate gave final approval to the North Puget Sound University legislation with a 38-10 vote.

Senate Bill 5636 now goes to the Governor’s desk.

Under the bill, WSU would assume management of the University Center in Everett in 2014 following the completion of an academic plan for the region and the establishment of an engineering program at the facility.

But the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board must first review the proposed expansion before all that happens. The HEC Board recommendations would be due July 1, 2012, and the academic plan would be due for submission to the Legislature for review by December 1, 2012.

Senate approves budget proposal

The Senate approved its budget proposal 34-13 late Monday afternoon, setting the stage for negotiations with the House.  Both chambers have now approved their own versions and leaders will work to resolve differences.

That’s not expected before the Legislature adjourns its regular session, which could come Thursday.  A special session will likely be required to agree on a budget deal and approve a series of bills necessary to implement it.

In the meantime, there’s work still be done, especially in the Senate.  The Ways and Means Committee meets at 2:30 p.m. today to move, among other things, its version of the capital budget.

Among the bills needing one last vote before adjournment of the regulation session is Senate Bill 5636, the North Puget Sound University Center legislation.

Senate budget awaiting floor vote

Today starts the final week of this year’s 105 day regular session, though a special session is anticipated in order to finish the considerable work still before the Legislature.

While the House and Senate will be ironing out differences in various policy bills they’ve already approved, lots of attention will still be focused on the budget and all the bills necessary to implement it.

On Friday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee advanced the upper chamber’s budget proposal to the floor after agreeing to a raft of mostly non-controversial amendments. None of them had any great bearing on higher education.

A floor vote is expected sometime today. Both the House and Senate convene at 10. To view the potential impacts on WSU, you can find a side-by-side comparison of the three budget proposal on the table here.

As negotiators begin their work of reaching agreement on a budget to send to the governor, WSU will be pressing for changes that would provide the university more flexibility to administer budget cuts.

State update for Friday April 15, 2011

The House Ways and Means Committee last night moved out a bill that would grant Washington’s public universities tuition setting authority for four years.

House Bill 1795 was advanced on a 22-5 vote and now heads for a vote of the full House of Representatives. It’s lengthy, complicated and very much a work in progress.  For now, the bill would allow universities to set tuition rates up to the amount authorized in the budget without incurring any new financial aid obligations.  Were universities to use its tuition setting authority to exceed that threshold, the current 3.5 percent holdback for all tuition revenues would increase to 5 percent to provide additional financial aid dollars for low and middle income students.

Beginning in 2015, tuition rates would be indexed to rates seen in Global Challenge States.  The bill also includes new performance and accountability language.  And there are other details in the bill that need to get cleaned up.

If anything seems certain, it’s that this bill is not in its final form.

UPDATE: The WSU Budget Office has posted this summary of the Senate budget proposal and this side-by-side comparison of the budgets proposed by the Governor, House and Senate.

Federal Update: finalizing FY11 budget

The Federal Government is proceeding with finalizing the FY2011 budget and beginning to discuss the FY2012 budget.  It is expected that the long term Continuing Resolution will be adopted by both Houses and signed by the President by the end of the day this Friday.

The 2012 Budget discussion has begun.  Congressman Ryan introduced his Budget Resolution last week, and the President presented his vision in a speech yesterday the 13th.  The Senate is expected to present a proposal in the next week or two.

The updates below will give you an overview of the process to proceed with the 2011 bill and summary of the Republican 2012 Budget Resolution.

WSU government affairs staff will provide further information as additional details become available.

FY2011 Spending Agreement Passes the House

With a vote of 260-167, the FY2011 appropriations measure, HR 1473, passed the House this afternoon. The measure will fund the federal government through September 30th, the end of the fiscal year. The Senate is expected to pass the measure later today.

FY2012 Budget Resolution

This afternoon, the House is expected to begin consideration of H Con Res 34 <> , the Budget Resolution for FY 2012, which House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) introduced last week. The House plans to hold four hours of general debate today with final votes scheduled for Friday.

Overall, the resolution calls for total spending of $3.53 trillion in FY 2012, $179 billion less than requested by the Obama administration. The resolution calls for non-defense discretionary budget authority of $360 billion in FY 2012 which is $105 billion less than the President’s request. It cuts $6 trillion over 10 years of federal spending.

The resolution would also:

·         Continue the current earmark ban

·         Bring non-security discretionary spending to below 2008 levels

·         Assume defense spending increases over the next 10 years

Items of interest to Higher Education include recommendations to student aid and cuts to research.

Proposed changes to Pell Grants include:
·         Ending the year-round Pell.
·         Setting  stricter lifetime limits from the current 18 semesters (9 years) to a recommended limit of 12 semesters (6 years), or their equivalents for part-time students.
·         Rolling back certain recent expansions to the need analysis to ensure aid is “targeted to the truly needy.” Potentially by altering the level at which a student qualifies for an automatic zero ‘Expected Family Contribution’ [EFC] and the income protection allowance to pre- College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 levels.
·         Eliminating administrative fees, $5 per grant, paid to participating institutions. “Schools already benefit significantly from the Pell program because the aid makes attendance at those schools more affordable.”
·         Considering including a maximum income cap.
·         Eliminating eligibility for less-than-half-time students. “Funding should be reserved for students with a larger commitment to their education.”
·         Terminating eligibility for those who currently receive the minimum award. As the minimum Pell award of $278 “is unlikely to have much, if any, impact.”
·         Adopting a sustainable maximum award level, noting that recent program growth can be attributed to the $619 increase in the maximum award that came from the stimulus bill.

For Scientific Research:

For Function 250, the function that funds general science, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), general science programs of the Energy Department, and the non-aviation programs at the NASA, the resolution calls for $27.3 billion in budget authority in FY 2012 “The resolution projects gradually increasing levels of discretionary funding for these programs, reaching $30.3 billion in FY 2021.”

“The resolution preserves basic research, providing stable funding for NSF to conduct its authorized activities. The budget also recognizes the vital strategic importance of the United States to remain the pre-eminent space-faring Nation. In the President’s request, the administration shifted priorities away from the 2010 NASA authorization, allocating about $2 billion to commercial cargo and crew and Earth Science climate change initiatives. The budget realigns funding in accordance with the NASA authorization and its specified spending limits to support robust space capability.  [I think there is a missing set of quotes here somewhere.]

The report provides illustrations of the kinds of proposals that can help meet the budget’s fiscal guidelines. For function 250, the report states:

The stimulus bill provided $1.6 billion, $800 million of which is currently unspent, for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Included were some areas, such as biological and environmental research, that could potentially crowd out private investment. The resolution levels support preserving the Office of Science’s original role as a venue for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, while paring back applied and commercial research and development.”

In Function 550, the health-sciences related function, the report does not specifically reference cuts to the National Institutes of Health, but assumes the discretionary spending levels will be the baseline proposed by H.R. 1, which will “reduce aggregate spending for the Department of Health and Human Services.”


For Function 500 (Education), in addition to the Pell grant changes, the report recommends that “the committees of jurisdiction address the duplication between the 82 programs that are designed to improve teacher quality.”

For this function, the report offers the following illustrations of proposals that could save money:

Encourage Private Funding for Cultural Agencies. Federal subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can no longer be justified. The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the Federal Government and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher education and income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens. These agencies can raise funds from private-sector patrons-which will also free them from any risk of political interference.”

Promote State, Local, and Private Funding for Museums and Libraries. The Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent agency that makes grants to museums and libraries. This is not a core Federal responsibility. This function can be funded at the State and local level and augmented significantly by charitable contributions from the private sector.”

Repeal New Funding From the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act [SAFRA] of 2010…First, it could repeal the expansion of the Income-Based Repayment [IBR] program…Second, Congress could repeal the new mandatory College Access Challenge Grants…Third, it could make discretionary payments to non-profit servicers, rather than mandatory payments.”

Accept the Fiscal Commission’s Proposal to Eliminate In-School Interest Subsidies for Undergraduate and Graduate Students.”

Additional information from the budget resolution

·         Restructure the Medicare and Medicaid programs. For Medicare, it alters the funding structure from the current “fee-for-service” model to model where future beneficiaries would receive a subsidy to purchase a qualified private health insurance plan rather than being directly covered by the government.  The funding structure of Medicaid is changed to a block grant program to states instead of the joint state-federal matching program as currently.
·         Extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts
·         Extend the current estate tax rates, providing a 20% deduction to small business and authorizing trade agreements, among others
·         Reduce the top individual and corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, offset by eliminating some corporate and individual tax deductions
·         Establish a binding cap on total spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) and requires any increase in debt levels to be accompanied by spending reductions

UPDATE from NPR: Congress Sends Budget Compromise To Obama