May 24 Budget Update

Colleagues:

The House and the Senate today made public a draft compromise state budget. It has yet to be voted upon. But, I wanted to share our preliminary take.

Please also understand that budgets are complicated matters full of nuances, footnotes, and complex provisions. They take days for us to fully decipher. So, when I say "preliminary take," I really mean it.

First, some background. We began, in December, with a `budget proposal from the Governor that, net of tuition, would cut Western $18.3M.

Warned that that disastrous cut might well be the best case scenario, the entire Western community - students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, parents, and friends - mobilized like this state has not seen before.

And, with effect. The House proposal, instead of cutting us further, actually reduced that $18.3M net cut to about $8.1M. Then, the Senate`s budget proposal came in at, for Western, a net cut of about $5.5M.

There were major differences between the House and Senate budgets and the compromise budget could have ended up anywhere - even well out of the range set by the two legislative budgets, as it did during last year`s special session.
The number in the current compromise budget is, for Western, a cut of $5.5M. A comparison of the various budgets proposed in Olympia throughout the legislative session is available here.

Given where we started, I am tempted to call this a "least worst case" outcome. However, please recognize this: Coming on top of the 10% net cut to operating budget that we have just finished implementing for the current biennium, this additional cut is serious. And, represents a further 30.4% cut in our state support.

That it was not much worse is testimony to the hard work of so many, to our staying together, and to the hard work of legislators who listened to you. We are told that they drew lines in the sand when it came to further debilitating public higher education. Without that stand, we would not have had the capacity to deliver on our basic strategic direction: to apply Western`s many areas of particular strength to meeting critical state needs.

No final budget has yet passed either house. And I must emphasize: this is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief and think it can be business as usual. As I have said before, the seriously diminished level of state funding - from 60% state support to 30% state support in three years - is very probably the new normal.

That makes the attention you have all been giving to "rebasing" all the more important. There is that legacy (current biennium) 10% cut to address. We have major needs ahead. Here`s the good news, though: if the current budget numbers stick, then much of the serious efforts made to rebase will go into the thoughtful development of a sustainable foundation for our university - meeting highest priority needs here to protect Western`s excellence and students` access to it.

Once the budget passes both houses, and we would expect that to be tomorrow, we can then build the detailed budget documents you are used to seeing as part of the budget process.

All year, I have thanked you for your patience and praised your commitment and understanding. Those laudable qualities have made huge contributions to where we are today as a university, on campus and off. So, once again, thank you.

My best,
Bruce

Page Updated 11.27.2013