Timing crucial for special legislative session

Last year when the legislature convened outside of regular session to cut the budget, they simply met during “interim assembly.”  Lawmakers meet twice outside of regular session, once in Sept. and again in the first week of Dec.  Made sense to hold the special session last Dec when legislators would be in town anyway.

Why then this year has the governor called special session for Nov. 28? It may be in order to approve a tax package and get it to the Secretary of State’s office in time to make the February ballot.

After last week’s gloomy budget forecast (down $1.4 billion) many legislators said they couldn’t cut that deeply without slicing away the human services safety net or irreparably harming education. Hard to believe anyone would propose new taxes in this economic climate–but wait!

A weekly survey released by pollster Stuart Elway found that Washington voters may be ready to support additional taxes to help fix the state budget. The survey found that a slight majority (54%) said they’d pay a bit more in sales tax. Unfortunately, in response to a different question in the same survey, 53% said the solution to the budget problem should be cuts.

The budget solution for CWU is enrollment. No one’s excited about budget cuts; state funding is still a big part of what supports our work. But most of CWU’s funding comes from private sources — the students and families who pay tuition, fees, and room and board and other services.  The challenge for us is to stave off the worst of the state budget cuts and maintain enrollment around 9800.

Thursday Pres. Gaudino travels to Olympia as a representative of comprehensive institutions on a special steering committee. The governor appointed the group to come up with a revised approach to higher education governance, as the days of the Higher Education Coordinating Board count down to a sunset on July 1, 2012.

What does the state really and truly need a governing board to do in higher education? How do the needs of comprehensives differ from those of colleges and research universities? It is likely that the governor is looking for an opportunity to reduce redundancy in higher education “oversight.” Currently that function is performed by each governing board of trustees or regents, by the HECB, the Workforce Education and Training Coordinating Board, the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges–and I’m sure I’ve missed a couple other minor players.  The gov’s priorities will compete with those of the UW, whose president is on the committee, as is the president of Whitworth and the executive director of the community college system.  The steering committee’s recommendations are due to the legislature in Dec.


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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