Sen. Mark Schoesler, Rep. Joe Schmick and Rep. Susan Fagan came to WSU Wednesday to talk about the upcoming $2 billion state budget cuts and the possible additional $533 million cut to higher education.
"So far the legislature has used higher education as its check book to balance the state budget," Schoesler said.
The amount of growth in student debt has become alarming, Schmick said.
If something is not done, eventually the student debt bubble will pop as students default on loans and put the economy into an even deeper recession, Schoesler said.
Even if rising debt does not cripple students, they might just become priced out of an education, Fagan said. This is a dangerous predicament because jobs remain available to be filled, but a gap exists between those opportunities and people with the skill sets to get them, she said.
Large institutions, therefore, remain necessary for the state to have a competitive economy, Schoesler said.
"But we need to focus on our two flagship institutions instead of spreading research to Bothell, Everett, the Tri-Cities and etc.," he said.
Cuts will have to be made and that's the frank reality, Schmick said.
There remains no other course of action because voters have made it clear that they do not support increased taxes, Schoesler said. An example is the Gates bill, meant to create an income tax for welfare and education programs on the wealthier members of Washington, which got shot down in 2010.
Besides that, an income tax is unconstitutional, Schoesler said. The state has two provisions that prevent income taxes and without changes to the state constitution, nothing can be done, he said.
"I'm not a big fan of tax increases because they delay the recovery of the economy," Schmick said.
The state already has enough regulations that punish businesses with fines and hurt growth without additional taxes, Fagan said. The state cutting those burdensome regulations to help make it friendly to entrepreneurs could help the economy, she said.
Business tax exemption removal also falls short of helping the state close its budget problem, Fagan said.
"If we took away all the exemptions, we'd still have to look at how we spend in this state," she said.
The state is in its current predicament because of previous spending habits and an inability to save, Schmick said.
The state saw a lot of growth in 2005 from construction in the economy and even though economists warned that this growth could not last it added new services and inflated the budget, Fagan said.
Never once did people ask themselves when creating these programs whether they would remain sustainable, Schmick said.
"The programs instituted should have had time limits instead of becoming long-term programs and now the money is gone," he said.