March 13, 2014
Just before midnight on Thursday, March 13, the 2014 Washington State Legislative Session adjourned, marking the first time in several years the legislature has not needed a special session to finish their work.
The 2014 Supplemental Operating Budget was often described by Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, as “modest.” With revenues somewhat neutral (neither markedly up nor down), the legislature didn’t have the capacity to make significant investment in many areas. For higher education, the budget included $25 million for the Opportunity Scholarship, $5 million for the State Need Grant, and several small institutional investments. In last year’s budget, Western, the University of Washington and Washington State University received funding for Computer Science and Engineering expansion. This year, Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University received some funding for that same purpose.
The final operating budget passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 85 to 13, and passed the Senate by a vote of 48-1.
The budget also includes language extending the tuition freeze through next year. While Western already had verbally committed to keeping tuition next year at a zero percent increase, some four-year institutions in the state were hoping to raise tuition between 5 and 7 percent.
Carver Academic Facility Project
For the first time since 1994, the legislature adjourned without adopting a capital budget. Prior to the session, the Governor’s proposed capital budget included $5 million to begin the construction phase for Western’s Carver Academic Facility project. Western has already received money for and completed the predesign and design phase of the building project. The House and Senate capital budget proposals each included $5 million for Carver as well. Unfortunately the House and Senate budgets were far apart in several other areas and an agreement could not be reached on a final capital budget, meaning those funds will not be appropriated for the Carver project this year.
The complete Carver project is roughly $70 million, and this will remain a top priority for Western heading into the 2015 Legislative Session. The inclusion of the money to begin a portion of the construction in this year’s budget proposals was a positive sign, and a result of the strong work by Western students, staff, faculty and other advocates to make legislators aware of the need to stop delaying this critical project.
The volume of higher education bills that made it through the legislative process this year was relatively low; however, several pieces of important legislation were able to pass both the House and Senate.
Real Hope Act
One of the most noteworthy pieces of legislation to pass the legislature this session was SB 6523, The Real Hope Act (Majority Coalition Caucus version of the DREAM ACT). This bill was a high priority for the higher education community, and passed both the House and Senate with a bipartisan vote, paving the way for generations of students to access the State Need Grant and pursue a college education.
Another win this year was passage of the COP yearly efficiency legislation. Sen. Barbara Bailey sponsored the bill in the Senate and Rep. Mia Gregerson sponsored the bill in the House. The legislation contains several provisions that create efficiencies and cost savings at specific institutions. Of the most interest to Western is a provision relating to our capital budget, specifically dealing with minor works projects. The provision moves the threshold for a project to qualify from $5 million to $10 million, creating a less onerous and far less expensive process for completing projects that cost less than $10 million.
Two priorities for veterans passed the legislature this year. The first bill, SB 5969, sponsored by Sen. Steve O’Ban, requires public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy to award academic credit for prior military training courses or programs. The second bill, SB 5318, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Bailey, removes the one-year waiting period for veterans or active members of the military to receive in-state tuition.
Looking ahead to next session, Western will continue bringing proposals to the legislature that build on our considerable strengths to serve the needs of the state of Washington. Budget leaders face significant challenges as they look to meet the requirements set forth in the McCleary decision, which may require $2 - $4 billion in new funding for K-12 education in order to meet the state’s constitutional mandate to provide for basic education as defined by the state Supreme Court.
The 2015 Legislative Session will convene in January, 2015