Gov. Gary Locke proposed a supplemental state budget Thursday, Dec. 18, designed to boost Washington’s economy by investing in state colleges and universities.

WSU’s Director of Planning and Budgeting Karl Boehmke said that if the proposal were approved, it “could mark the best supplemental budget in many years.”

Locke said his proposed $192.7 million general fund supplemental budget would open classroom doors to thousands more college students, while targeting other top priorities from rural health care to the cost of recent natural disasters.

The majority of the operating-budget covers caseload-driven costs, higher public school enrollments, more social services clients, an increasing state prison population and the cost of recent wildfires and flooding.

Expanding enrollment

Dollars available for discretionary spending were focused on higher education, which is the “key to our economic future,” Locke said.

To that end, his proposal would funnel $30 million to expand enrollment at state colleges and universities, resulting in as many as 5,200 more full-time students statewide — more than half of them in high-demand fields such as nursing, computer science and math.

“Parents and high school students are knocking at the doors of our colleges, and businesses are seeking highly skilled workers,” Locke said. “There is no greater priority.”

WSU would net about 288 FTE students and $1.4 million, or $4,903 per student. (This is the current average state support for resident undergraduates.)

“This will allow WSU to serve students who would otherwise have been denied enrollment,” Boehmke said.

Recognizing the value of research to the state’s economy, Locke’s proposal would give $1.5 million to WSU as a state match to attract or retain federal research grants in high-demand and technologically advanced fields.

“This is an investment that will attract more funding to the state,” Boehmke said.

Under the Governor’s budget, the Higher Education Coordinating Board pool to fund high-demand enrollment would grow by $10 million, enough to fund an additional 909 FTEs at $11,000 per student. WSU would apply for a portion of this pool.

Financial aid programs also would receive additional funding.

Capital construction

Locke also proposed a $168 million capital construction budget to build higher education facilities, a state prison and other targeted projects .

For WSU, this proposal funds several important capital projects that had been left out of the original biennial budget, including:

* $6.65 million for the initial construction phase of the Spokane Academic Center building — site work and foundation construction, with the balance of the building to be completed next biennium. The university had hoped to receive $20 million so that the shell of the building could be completed this biennium and the building completed by fall 2006.

* $3.4 million dollars to jumpstart the Wastewater Reclamation project and ease the decline of the Pullman aquifer level.

The proposed plant would treat the wastewater effluent, then filter and recycle it. This is the first phase of a $12.7 million project designed to conserve and reuse water and protect the aquifer.

* $6 million in funding for WSUnet, the university’s computer network infrastructure, used for communications and administrative functions.

Following priorities

The governor said his proposal follows the “Priorities of Government” approach used last spring to forge the 2003-2005 spending plan. The 2003-05 general fund budget totaled $2.6 billion.

For example, it continues $74 million worth of tax incentives designed to stimulate business investment in research and development and growth of manufacturing in rural areas.

“The tough decisions we made in the 2003 legislative session are paying off,” Locke said in a press release. “You will have to go to California or some other state for a story about a budget crisis. We don’t have one here.”

The governor s proposal reflects a net spending increase of less than 1 percent of the general fund budget. It requires no tax increases and leaves a reserve of $171.9 million.

His budget proposal would also double the current grant award level for Promise Scholarships, given to high-performing high school students from low- and middle-income families.

It strengthens the Learning Assistance Program to help struggling K-12 students in public schools meet state academic standards.

Locke’s proposal also would provide:

* improved funding of health care in under-served rural areas, and to children in low-income families.

* $15.3 million to address the state water needs

* $46 million to finance start-up costs of building a new, 768-bed prison in Franklin County

* $60.8 million in federal funds to improve homeland security

* $6.6 million in new shared federal assistance to improve community-based health services in public hospital districts

* $3.1 million to provide secure treatment for sex offenders, and to take drunk drivers off the road

* $495,000 to create on-line and mail-in renewal of drivers licenses; and

* $380,000 to continue promotion of state agriculture products.