Strange times call for strange measures: creative budgeting

Before I start whining about the Senate supplemental budget, please note that our own Gabe Munoz, ASCWU president, will headline an Olympia news conference tomorrow. It’s sponsored by the College Promise Coalition and will begin at 9:30 a.m. on the steps of the Capitol Building. The purpose of the conference is to call attention to the broad coalition that has emerged to support funding for public higher education. Represent, Gabe!!

Ok – on a more dignified tone…….Today the state Senate released its plan for balancing the budget through the end of June. If I were reading this to you, I would now begin to speak very slowly, lest you lose your way or believe that I am making things up. 

 1.) Moving students’ money from CWU to the Treasurer. Section 705 of the supplemental budget transfers to a big financial aid fund $25 million from the “Higher Education Operating Fees Account” (HEOFA). This is an account that does not exist. I am not making this up.

What this action actually does is take tuition out of accounts that only CWU is supposed to control, and moves it into a large financial aid account. It exists at the Washington State Lottery and is called the Opportunities Pathways Account.

 2.) Cutting the State Need Grant.  Section 608 of the budget cuts the general fund appropriation for the State Need Grant by $25 million.

 3.) Backfilling the cut with tuition. The budget then transfers tuition from the Treasury into the State Need Grant to backfill the cut.

 CWU students pay about $700,000 for this strategy. This just happens to be about the difference between what the governor proposed to cut CWU across-the-board cut in Nov. and what the legislature implemented in Dec.

Is this legal? It will be, if the legislature passes a bill. But for now, RCW 28B.15.031 has the following to say about tuition being a local account, one controlled by the university and not the state:

 All moneys received as operating fees at any institution of higher education shall be deposited in a local account containing only operating fees revenue and related interest: PROVIDED, That a minimum of three and one-half percent of operating fees shall be retained by the institutions for the purposes of RCW 28B.15.820. Local operating fee accounts shall not be subject to appropriation by the legislature or allotment procedures under chapter 43.88 RCW. 

 In other words, they’ll have to change state law to implement this budget proposal (which is easily enough done).

I was going to write about the rumored 3 percent cut in salaries, but I will save that for another day.

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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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