Gov. Gregoire would dig a $160 million hole for higher education with her 2012 supplemental budget, but then follow the bouncing asterisk and ask voters to fill it in with a half-cent sales-tax increase.
Without the tax increase in the budget released Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, Gregoire would take 13 percent - about $75 million - of the current state allocation away from community and technical colleges in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
A total of $85 million would come from the four-years schools. The University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University would each take a 17 percent cut while Eastern, Central and Evergreen would take 16 percent cuts. All of the higher education cuts are followed by an asterisk which leads to the tax proposal elsewhere in the budget document.
The proposal would also save $8 million by suspending the Work Study Program for the 2012-13 fiscal year. State Need Grant funding previously considered for reduction would be left intact. The proposal does not include any additional employee furloughs or pay cuts. While it does include a reduction in employee health benefit funding, the savings comes from lower-than-expected costs in the current year and will not impact employee costs, according to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
“I propose more than $2 billion in spending cuts, reductions to local revenue sharing and fund transfers to leave a $600 million reserve,” Gregoire said in a letter accompanying the budget plan. The state is facing a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall, according to the latest revenue and economic projections. Gregoire is cutting more than that to leave a financial cushion, although such flexibility has been used up by the worsening economy in every budget over that past three years.
Shoreline Community College President Lee Lambert said it is much too soon to start predicting what might be the actual cut coming out of the special legislative session scheduled to start Nov. 28. “Her plan of 13 percent, coupled with the last round of cuts, means that as many as 40,000 fewer students will get the education training they need in this budget cycle," Lambert said. "More cuts would only make that already horrendous number worse."
For Shoreline, Lambert said back in September the college might weather a cut 10 percent with minimal staff cuts. "That would take using reserves, something we have not done and worries our board of trustees, but may be possible," he said. If the cut reached 15 percent, Lambert said, significant cuts would be necessary.
Lambert said he appreciates the Governor’s effort to cover the cut with a tax increase, but is wary of what voters would approve.
“We know that community colleges are the engine that can put people back to work. We know we’re helping more students and doing it with less money,” Lambert said. “However, we also know that the recent track record for revenue increases isn’t good. We need to be cautious about counting on that additional revenue.”
Lambert said he's pleased that Gregoire shielded students do the degree she did.
"While work study is an important part of the financial picture for many of our students, I appreciate that she didn't include more tuition increases and mainatins the very important State Need Grant program," he said.