PULLMAN, Wash. — Existing programs at Washington State University would be cut by 5 percent — $10.5 million — on July 1, according to Gov. Gary Locke’s recently proposed budget. Locke’s budget would delay scheduled 2.6 percent salary increases by two months, give institutions tuition-setting authority and increase employee insurance costs.

The governor released the Supplemental Operating Appropriations bill just one day after visiting the Pullman campus, where he warned listeners that the budget had to make up a $1.2 billion deficit and that virtually every part of government would be affected.

Indeed, virtually every part of government was affected, though at differing rates. The community colleges’ existing programs were reduced by 3 percent, an indication from the governor’s staff that those institutions would not be able to raise tuition by as much as the four-year universities. The governor’s office reported that the average cut in state government was 9.5 percent. The state library, three fish hatcheries, the Washington State International Trade Fair, and a youth camp were among programs completely eliminated by the governor.

The $10.5 million cut for WSU was implemented on a single line (page 164) of a 205-page budget document, reducing the university’s overall appropriation for upcoming fiscal year to $196.95 million. No special language was added to accompany the cut, apparently granting the institution authority to implement the cuts through its own internal process. However, there is no expressed authority that would allow decreased enrollments.

Tuition-setting defense
In an unprecedented move, the governor gave complete tuition-setting authority to all of the state’s colleges and universities and pledged an appropriate amount of state need-grant funding if the increase at WSU does not exceed 18 percent. At WSU, the Board of Regents will have the authority to set tuition for the 2002 – 2003 academic year. This authority is granted only in the budget and will expire in one year when the budget expires. However, the governor is working on a tuition bill that may extend that authority in future years, provided the institutions give assurances that low-income students will be admitted and that students will be able to graduate in a timely fashion.

The state will increase funding of the State Need Grant program for low-income students to cover the cost of tuition increases.

Pay hike delayed
There was some doubt that the 2.6 percent salary increase for most state employees would hold up under a $1.2 billion budget reduction. The governor chose to delay the increase until August. The scheduled 2.6 percent salary increase is implemented by the governor, but delays it by two months. The delay saves about $664,000 in salaries to WSU employees. The increase that had been scheduled for July 1 would instead be effective Sept. 1. K – 12 teachers and community college faculty will receive a 3.6 percent increase under the terms of Initiative 732. Only 88 percent of the cost of the increase is funded, as was the case in the original appropriation.

Insurance co-pay doubles
Under the proposal, the employee’s share of health benefit costs would increase. Each employee would pay at least 10 percent of the premium rate for the plan of his or her choice. Doctor visit co-pays would increase from $10 to $20.

Employer and employee contributions to PERS Plan 2 are no longer required. The plan is considered fully funded. Retirement benefits remain unchanged.

WSU’s request for $1.2 million to cover the additional costs of maintenance and utilities on new state-authorized construction is not addressed in the governor’s budget.

Branch campus funding
New funding provided in the original appropriation for expanded enrollment at WSU’s branch campuses in Vancouver and Spokane remain unchanged.

Some persons have been inquiring about the cost of providing upper-division and graduate programs through the branch campus system now moving into the second decade of service. Some have suggested that it is too expensive to use research universities like WSU or UW to deliver the programs. Others have suggested that there should be more investment in community colleges and less into branch campuses.

WSU presented figures to the House and Senate Higher Education Committees last week, which demonstrated that the taxpayer’s costs of delivering programs at the research university branch campuses is comparable to other campuses in the state. For instance, the HEC Board cost study indicates that Western Washington University educates upper-division (junior and senior) students for $6,514 per FTE in state general fund monies. WSU Tri-Cities is provided $6,626 per FTE. Other cost numbers are UW Bothell, $6,626; UW Tacoma, $6,948; WSU Vancouver, $7,811, EWU $6,030, and Central Washington University, $6,273.

Just the beginning
The governor’s budget is just the opening salvo in what could be some contentious partisan debate over the state budget. The state House of Representatives and the state Senate, which both convene Jan. 14, will now begin working on their versions of the governor’s budget.