Welcome to The Briefing Room!

The Briefing Room is intended to be a place to learn and ask questions about Washington state government and the way it affects public baccalaureate education. The purpose of this blog is to demystify state budget- and policy-making. This is to be a user’s guide to state government where you can come for reality checks and for answers.

The purpose of the blog is also is to reduce anxiety about state and university budgeting by providing context for budget headlines. It’s hard to know if they’re threatening or irrelevant unless you understand the legislative process, the players, and the timeline. “Context” in this case means sizing the problem for the state and what it means to the university, students’ education, and the lives of the people who work here.

Today is the first day of the 2011 session of the Washington State Legislature. The regular session of the legislature runs 105 days this year. The clock begins ticking as soon as the legislature is called to order. The 105 days are marked by several deadlines that keep the process moving—and increase the pressure to finish as the 105 days count down.

As always the first weeks of the legislative session are marked by process, and pomp and circumstance: swearing in of elected officials, certification of elections, speeches on the state of the state, of the judiciary, of education, and so on. Members will spend time in committees poring over the governor’s budget proposals. Because there are many new members with little or no experience, legislative committees also spend a great deal of time in work sessions that provide broad overviews to issue areas.

By now you’re read or heard that the state is facing huge budget shortfalls again. The primary tasks for this legislative session will be to fix two budgets:

1.) The budget for fiscal year 2011, the budget period we’re currently in. In order to balance the budget period we’re in, the legislature and governor must agree on about $500 million in budget reductions.

2.) The budget for 2011-2013. The state budget office, The Office of Financial Management, predicts the state will have to cut spending by about $5.7 billion to balance the upcoming two-year budget.

Many, many ideas will surface for balancing these budgets. So before you start to worry about any of these ideas, remember this: to get anything done it takes at least 50 votes in the House, 25 in the Senate, and 1 in the Office of the Governor. This is an important formula to remember whenever you hear or read about a proposal by the legislature or the governor. Before you start losing sleep about a budget or policy proposal that you consider terrific, or silly, or dangerous, remember that most proposals have a long way to go before they become reality.

CWU’s key representatives in Olympia are Ann Anderson, Director of Government Relations, and, Steve DuPont, Government Relations Specialist. The president, our vice presidents, and various students, staff, and faculty also meet with policymakers to explain the affect of proposals on higher education.
Together they manage communications with 49 senators, 98 representatives, and staff from the House, the Senate, and state agencies. Ann and I like to say that the legislative session is like running around with your hair on fire. A one point I’d proposed calling this blog “Hair on Fire,” which would capture the panic, fear, pain and confusion that the legislative session can inspire in even the most veteran observers. “The Briefing Room,” however, captures a calmer, more reasoned approach that we’re all hoping to embrace this year.

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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