(The following article is a composite of information from news articles, and information from Karl Boehmke, executive director of planning and budget Larry Ganders, assistant to the WSU president.)
The Legislature adjourned Sunday evening, April 24, having approved a $26 billion operating budget, a $3 billion state construction budget, and about $400 million in taxes. The biggest tax increase, though, came via an $8.5 billion transportation package, to be funded by a 9.5-cent hike in gas taxes over four years.
The new operating budget provides $429.5 million to Washington State University during the next biennium. It will:
* increase faculty salaries Sept. 1
* cut noninstructional programs by $2.1 million
* provide funding for 905 new full-time students to the WSU system
* begin funding four-year programs at WSU Vancouver and WSU Tri-Cities
* add $1.5 million for veterinary medicine
* increase student tuition up to 7 percent
“Given the fiscal position of the state, the Legislature did well in addressing some of our most pressing needs,” said Karl Boehmke, executive director of planning and budget, in his analysis of the budget. “Salary increases were funded, our burgeoning enrollments were recognized with additional resources and provisions were made to take our regional campuses to the next phase of development.”
For the first time in several years, the state Legislature funded salary increases at WSU. Here’s how the money was earmarked:
* Funding was provided for salary increases for faculty, graduate assistants and administrative professional staff effective Sept. 1, 2005 — two months later than either the House or the Senate had recommended. The state-funded salary increase for faculty, graduate assistants and administrative professional staff is an average of 3.2 percent. State funding is provided for an average permanent salary increase of 1.6% on Sept. 1, 2006.
* Similarly, funding was provided for salary increases for nonrepresented classified employees effective Sept. 1, 2005 — two months later than either the House or the Senate had recommended. The salary increase for nonrepresented classified employees is 3.2 percent. These employees also will receive a 1.6 percent salary increase on Sept. 1, 2006 through the end of the biennium, July 1, 2007.
* The budget provides funds for raises for employees in bargaining units 1, 4, 5 and 11 effective July 1, 2005. Funding also was provided for an increase in the form of a lump sum payment on July 1, 2006.
* Other than the bargaining units 1, 4, 5 and 11, no salary increases are provided in the budget for classified employees covered by collective bargaining.
The price tag for all the above salary increases is $14.3 million, Boehmke said.
WSU received an additional $11.2 million to cover changes in health benefit costs to maintain current benefits.
Claw back and noninstructional cut
For higher education, the operating budget represents a compromise between the proposed House and Senate budgets. The proposed Senate budget originally called for $14.6 million to be taken back or “clawed back” from WSU’s tuition increase to be paid by resident students. In the final budget, however, that amount was reduced to $2.7 million, or one-fourth of the additional tuition resident undergraduate students will pay.
The budget also offers a $70 million increase in student financial aid statewide.
The greatest disappointment for higher education advocates was the retention of a 1% or $2.1 million cut to so-called noninstructional programs. This will adversely impact existing WSU budgets in research, extension, libraries, student services, academic support, physical plant and administration.
Many attribute the need for the reduced claw back and noninstructional cut to the Senate’s desire to improve student financial aid.
Death tax funds enrollment
The Legislature also created a controversial inheritance or “death tax” dedicated to higher education enrollments. The tax, which targets estates of $1.5 million and larger, passed the House 50-48. The tax will provide $9.6 million to WSU for enrollment.
WSU Vancouver received funding to begin admitting 200 freshman and sophomore students. The budget explicitly provides $6,303 per student for each of those 200 lower-division students. The budget also provides $350,000 to start up the new programs for freshmen and sophomores.
UW Tacoma received similar authority and funding.
WSU Tri-Cities received authority to begin admitting freshmen and sophomores in biotechnology with approval from the Higher Education Coordinating Board. The compromise budget provides 25 lower-division student slots for WSU Tri-Cities.
WSU Vancouver will receive 125 additional upper-division students at $10,000 per student.
There was relatively little controversy over the student tuition increase as both the House and Senate recommended a 7 percent hike.
No high-demand enrollment was funded for four-year institutions.
The improved per-student funding, however, came with some conditions. The Legislature noted that it wants to see demonstrable progress toward achieving goals that:
* Reduce the time required to earn a degree
* Preserve access to low-income students
* Improve freshman retention rates
* Improve number of ranked programs
* Improve ranking of federal research grants funded
* Improve job placement or graduate school acceptance
Veterinary, research funding
The budget provides $1.5 million of the $2 million that WSU requested to help offset the withdrawal of students from Oregon State University.
While UW and WSU did receive some specialize funding for research in the budget, there were no appropriations for more general research that the universities had recommended.
WSU will receive $400,000 for research to combat “ghost shrimp” in Willapa Bay. Ghost shrimp are a predator, aggravated by the presence of dams on the Columbia River, that have undermined oyster farming on the bay that contributes tens of millions of dollars to the Pacific County economy. WSU researchers will be looking for alternatives to a pesticide that is currently used to control the shrimp.
Funding also was provided for a vehicle licensing study (House Bill 1241) and a renewable energy expert (Substitute Senate Bill 5101).
There is language in the budget urging WSU to reallocate agricultural research dollars to organic farming and precision agriculture, but there was no new funding provided.
Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposal for a Life Sciences Discovery Fund (Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5581) to benefit research projects at universities and in the private sector and that will permit cloning or stem cell research to be funded, was approved 25-24, with Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Tri-Cities, crossing party lines to support the bill.
(See review of the final “capital” budget on this webpage. Or related articles at the Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com; or WSU’s legislative websitve at http://www.olympia.wsu.edu/News/2005_News_Ten.stm.)