Regarding the Latest Revenue Forecast

Colleagues,

Minutes ago, the state of Washington issued a new revenue forecast and the news was not good. There are negative implications for the current fiscal year but it is the next biennium where most of our attention is focused.

There, the new forecast is troubling. In December, when the Governor announced her proposed budget, the State was grappling with development of a budget for the 2011-13 biennium that incorporated a projected revenue shortfall of about $4.6 billion. Today's news dug that hole $698M deeper.

Prior to this latest forecast, the Governor had prepared a budget proposal that would cut public higher education by about $380M. As we have been reporting to you, that meant cuts to Western even more serious than the unprecedented cuts now in place this biennium. Bigger cuts on top of big cuts and without rabbits to pull out of the hat.

Many have been working very hard to make clear in Olympia that cuts of the magnitude that the Governor proposed are untenable.

What does "untenable" really mean? As we have explained to all listening and in order to graphically illustrate the magnitude of the cuts at the level the Governor proposed (net of the 11% tuition increases the Governor proposes), those cuts equal the entire budgets of three of our seven colleges. That level of net cut would be equivalent to laying off 20% of our faculty. We could eliminate all student services and all academic support services and still not achieve the level of the proposed cut.

Like never before, legislators report hearing from students, faculty, parents, alums, and other supporters. And, in particular, hearing from those with Western connections. And, editorial support for higher education as the solution rather than the problem has been expressed across the state, forcefully.

I trust you have also noticed that, in our public pronouncements, we have been pulling no punches. Just three recent examples : in the Seattle Times' description, "a strongly worded letter" sent to key legislative leadership, the spot-on United Faculty of Washington State Blog, and a candid speech given to a distinguished group in Seattle earlier in the week.

Those of us spending time in Olympia – faculty, staff, students, union leaders – do see tangible evidence that the messages are being heard, understood, and believed by our legislators – in my experience and to a person, people dedicated and working hard for the best interests of our State. Legislators are hearing, yes. But, they also directed us to look at cuts 15% to 30% larger than those the Governor proposed.

Problem is, of course, that there is no money. Today, there are $698M fewer dollars.

This does mean that, while continuing to fight for the best interests of Washington and pulling out all the stops in so doing, we also have to keep budget processes moving forward. Much is under way:

  • Recently, we posted and informed the campus of a revised schedule for developing the 2011-12 operating budget. That includes looking at "worst case" and those processes are under way.
  • Yesterday, I first received a list of possible program reductions and eliminations and immediately began the steps for confidential consideration, involving governance leaders in that process as specified in our policies.
  • And, the University Planning and Resources Council will be engaging in discussion, at the 30,000 foot level, of the directions Western should pursue in the event of "worst case."

Enormous uncertainty remains. Folks are predicting that, likely next week, the House will pass a budget and, perhaps, the Senate as well. Folks are also predicting that the two will be worlds apart. Nobody is predicting how long it will take for the two budgets to be reconciled.

While we have a just-revised timeline out there, additional flexibility may become necessary if there are further delays in Olympia. In so doing, we will, of course, continue to seek to provide for as full and as transparent a consideration of options as circumstances will permit.

Lots of other issues remain up in the air including what tuition might be and the specifics of bills that would have consequences for all of us who work for the state.

So, yet again, patience is required. Of this, you can be sure: when we know anything certain, you will know it as well. Toward that commitment (and so I am not wearing out my welcome in e-mail sent directly to you) I will be adding, by the end of the day, a link on my web page that will lead to where, in one place, you can find major communications from me that have to do with budgets.

At times like this, your consistently constructive engagement is all the more critical. And, all the more appreciated.

My best,

Bruce

Page Updated 11.27.2013