Just as higher education prepares to feel the blows from Gov. Chris Gregoire's most recent budget proposal, the new Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) introduced Friday has the potential to be a source of hope despite the tight situation.
SJR 8225 was introduced by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and would increase higher education funding by $890 million, according to a press release from Baumgartner.
Student representatives from ASWSU and other groups around campus are currently attending Coug Day at the Capitol in Olympia. The student representatives will be hearing speeches and presentations about the current climate in Olympia in order to bring information about funding back to the students.
"After one full day of Coug Day, it's been a great educational experience and we look forward to talking to Sen. Baumgartner about his recent resolution," ASWSU President Riley Myklebust said. "Hopefully the resolution sheds more light on the dire situation that is the funding of higher education."
The proposed legislation would dedicate a portion of the state sales tax to college and university operations by placing higher education in the state constitution as the second-highest priority, after primary (K-12) education.
"This is not a new tax; it is a better prioritization of current taxpayer dollars," Baumgartner said in the press release. The resolution would amend Article IX of the Washington State Constitution which refers to providing for basic education a "paramount duty" of the state and would add higher education as the second highest duty of the state.
Gregoire's proposed 2012 supplemental budget would reduce state support to colleges and universities by $160.1 million. The budget, posted on ofm.wa.gov, establishes a 17 percent decrease for WSU and UW in the second year of the biennium as well as cuts to four other public colleges and universities and 34 community and technical colleges. These reductions are on the list of cuts proposed to be prevented by new revenue, however the other higher education cuts, including the suspension of the State Work Study program, do not have the opportunity to be relieved even if new revenue does come in.
Despite support the amendment could receive, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said constitutional amendments have a statistically lower chance of passing, and how close to the beginning of the legislative session the amendment was introduced will also hurt its chances of passing.
Ultimately, Schoesler said, lobbying for amendments like these and support for higher education needs to happen before January. If students want to support this amendment and fewer higher-ed cuts in the future, they need to start lobbying in advance by talking to a senator or representative as often as possible while avoiding form-letters and threats.
"This proposed amendment comes at a point in time when higher education has been de-prioritized from the state's list and shows that we really need something to highlight the importance of higher education in the eyes of the legislature," said Tristan Hannon, ASWSU director of legislative affairs.
The amendment will require a two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate in order to pass and be placed on the ballot.