In response to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed 15 percent cut to higher education, ASWSU senators drafted a resolution opposing the reductions and questioned ninth district legislators’ commitment to higher education funding.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, attended the senate meeting Wednesday night and gave their perspective on the budget.
Schmick said cuts to higher education funding are likely inevitable. While Schmick, who sits on several healthcare committees, spent a large portion of his time addressing funding for health and human services, he said he also supports higher education.
“I think we’ve decimated higher education funding enough as it is,” he said. “I don’t want to see any more cuts, but in all honesty, there probably will be. We’ll do everything we can to prevent them, but everyone’s going to feel the pain.”
Schmick said he worries state politics have pitted education against social services. The percent of the legislature’s budget dedicated to education funding has dramatically decreased, he said.
District 2 Sen. Taylor Hennessey asked how Schmick and other legislators planned to reconcile funding for social services with education funding.
“It just puts us in a terrible position,” Schmick said. “Because no matter what I do, it’s wrong.”
The representative was appointed to the legislature in 2007, when several social service programs had just been created, he said. However, they are not sustainable. He said the legislature should have used the revenue from the period of growth to fund one-time expenditures instead of ongoing programs.
ASWSU Vice President Amanda Spalding said some students can relate to legislators’ dilemma because some students have personally benefited from state services.
“A lot of us do recognize that it would be between our education and support for our families,” she said. “So it is a hard decision.”
District 1 Sen. James Cockburn, who helped write the resolution, said while social services should not bear the majority of the cuts, legislators need to focus on protecting higher education.
“I certainly don’t envy their position,” he said. “We’ve got to be honest. These are tough, tough times. They’re faced with difficult decisions.”
However, he said the legislators are being short-sighted by not considering more revenue-raising options, such as closing tax loopholes or increasing taxes.
“There are lots of things that are important, and they need to find a way to prioritize them and make it so we can have these services and provide a quality public higher education for students.”
GET TO KNOW YOUR SENATORS
Name: James Cockburn
Major: Political science, pre-law track
Hometown: Sequim, Wash.
Occupation: District 1 senator
Favorite movie: “Green Street Hooligans”
Hero: His dad
Goal for the year: “My goal is to be an unwavering advocate for the students and to be accountable and approachable.”