Higher education may have avoided hits during the December special session, but with the regular session starting Monday, Washington State University may still face tremendous cuts.
“It’s going to be a tough session,” said Chris Mulick, WSU Director for State Relations. “Our state continues to face a budget crisis of historic proportions. The economy just can’t heat up fast enough.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire approved about $480 million in spending reductions. She said on Dec. 20 that she expected legislators to return to Olympia “ready to go, rested, tanned, to tackle” the remaining $1.5 billion shortfall.
If the cuts to higher education go through as recommended by the governor, WSU’s state appropriation would be reduced by 17 percent. In total, state support to colleges and universities would be cut by $160.1 million, and the State Work Study program would be suspended for a savings of $8.1 million, according to the Office of Fiscal Management.
“It’s almost mathematical certainty that some of it comes out of higher education,” Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) said.
Hunter, the chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, said the special session was successful, although it did not end in the cuts Gregoire has laid out. It was too aggressive to assume the budget would be completed in the week before Christmas, he said.
“We did a lot of the progress toward shimmying toward the middle, toward getting people to understand the budget,” he said.
The final budget is expected to be completed after the February revenue forecast, Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) said.
WSU President Elson S. Floyd has called the proposed cuts draconian, saying university officials will work with the Legislature to make it clear that the level of reductions is unacceptable. This session will define where the state’s priorities and core values lie, he said.
“This is arguably the most important and difficult legislative session we’ve ever had,” he said.
Floyd traveled to Olympia Wednesday to meet with legislators. He will most likely spend more time there than in Pullman during the coming months, he said.
With major cuts to the state budget coming, the special session gave the university a head start on broadcasting its message and the Legislature a head start on solving part of the budget problem, Mulick said.
“Everyone will already be warmed up come Monday to kick off a productive session,” he said.