WSU’s top legislative priority, a request for authorization to fund and build a $63 million Biotechnology/Life Sciences Building at its Pullman campus, was excluded from the House Capital Budget Committee’s proposed budget which was released on Tuesday.

The House’s operating budget, however, proposes funding for numerous items, including high-demand enrollment, increasing energy costs and development of WSU Tri-Cities.

Briefly, WSU seeks authority to use the state treasurer to issue Certificates of Participation (COP) bonds to construct a life sciences research laboratory and instructional facility in Pullman. The bonds would be paid for through proceeds from the university’s Land Grant fund. That takes the building out of competition with other state projects and does not count toward the state’s debt limit.

House Capital Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said he preferred using general fund bonds to finance the project, which he said he could support in the 2007 Legislature. He said that those funds should be used for preservation and maintenance of buildings, not construction of the Biotechnology/Life Sciences Building. WSU has a huge backlog of buildings needing work, he told The Spokesman-Review.

The Land Grant funds were established in the 1880s, when the federal and state governments set aside about 150,000 acres of lands under the Morrill Act and Hatch Act. Proceeds from the management and sale of these land goes into a permanent fund designed to support and maintain the institution. The land is managed by the Department of Natural Resources and the funds are managed by the State Investment Board.

The possibility of using Land Grant funds on the project is still very much alive, however. The recently released Senate budget did contain the desired authority, and the project is a priority of the governor.

“Not all House members were pleased with the outcome on the WSU building, and House Republicans were considering running amendments in committee or on the floor to try to add in the Biotechnology/Life Sciences building authorization,” noted Larry Ganders, WSU Government Relations. “If it remains deleted from a House-passed budget, it still would be the topic of House-Senate conferences to resolve differences on the capital budget.”

Karl Boehmke, WSU’s executive director of planning and budget, said, “Project supporters remain optimistic that the facility will be authorized in the conference budget.” 

The House budget does allocate $5 million for preservation projects, and earmarks $50,000 in preservation project funding for the predesign of a dairy upgrade. WSU had not requested this appropriation since the university has plans to partner with the dairy industry to build a new dairy with resources other than state capital appropriations.

Operating budget summary
Overall, the proposed House budget “addresses most of WSU’s funding priorities,” Boehmke said. The proposal is expected to be voted on by the committee and the full House late this week.

The 2006 supplemental budget represents changes to the 2005 – 2007 biennial budget passed by the legislature last spring. The proposed House budget recommends the following appropriations:

* Energy.  $716,000 in the current year (FY2006) for energy cost increases. This is less than the amount in the governor’s budget ($913,000), the Senate budget ($1,016,000), and the WSU request ($3,900,000). FY2007 energy costs may be considered in the 2007 supplemental budget.

* Maintenance. When the 2005-07 budget was passed, maintenance and operations funding was inadvertently left out for three capital projects. The House, Senate and governor all recommend adding $501,000 to fully fund maintenance and operations for Vancouver Student Services, Prosser Precision Agricultural Center and the Spokane South Campus Annex. 

* Tri-Cities. $250,000 for start-up expenses at WSU Tri-Cities as the campus develops four-year programs.  Neither the governor’s nor Senate’s budget provided such funding.

* High-demand enrollment. $1,174,000 to WSU for 80 FTE high demand enrollments.  This would facilitate expanding undergraduate and graduate programs in nursing, engineering, construction management and other areas. The Senate budget funds high-demand programs through the Higher Education Coordinating Board, rather than directly to institutions. The governor’s budget had no enrollment funding.

*  AgWeatherNet system. $800,000 for WSU to operate the AgWeatherNet system (equal to the Senate’s allocation). The system will provide data for weather-dependent agricultural, natural resource, fire services, and environmental activities throughout the state. This funding was not in the governor’s budget.

* BIOAg program. $800,000 for the BIOAg program which will foster biological approaches to farming that work in concert with natural systems and contribute to the emerging bioeconomy in Washington. This funding was not in the governor’s budget or the Senate budget.

 * WSU/UW Policy Consensus Center. $100,000 for WSU, and the same amount for UW, for the joint WSU/UW Policy Consensus Center. The governor provided the same amounts, while the Senate budget includes no funding,

* Institute for Systems Medicine (ISM). $1,000,000 for WSU to pass on to the Institute for Systems Medicine (ISM) for the development of life sciences research located in Spokane. The Senate budgeted the same.

* Biofuels education. $98,000 for a biofuels consumer education program at the WSU Energy Office. This was not in the other budgets.

* Solar energy. The House did not fund a solar energy study. The Senate budget provides $160,000 for the WSU Energy Office to conduct a feasibility assessment of the economic and technical viability of building a solar electric generating facility.

* Salary and benefits. A $3,260,000 reduction in the university’s salary and benefit funding, correcting the over funding in the original budget. This amount represents the net of the funds needed to pay the salary and benefit increases associated with the changes in representation of civil service employees. The proposals from the governor and the Senate are similar.