Lawmakers Approve Operating, Capital Budgets for WSU

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins calls the 2001 Legislative session, which has yet to complete all of its business, a “very tough one.”

“Lawmakers have very limited revenues to cover a host of new problems,” the president said. “In that context, higher education did better than we might have expected, with some attention to our priorities.”

State lawmakers on Wednesday passed an operating budget package for the university that includes money for salary increases, additional enrollment and some research support. The university’s portion of the 2001-03 capital budget included four major building projects.

The $411.1 million operating budget is an 8.1 percent increase over the 1999-2001 level.

Rawlins said the university had three legislative objectives: increased salaries, emphasizing quality and uncoupling the practice that new funding be based only on enrollment growth.

Funding for salary increases was WSU highest budget priority since it relates directly to the quality of programs. The Legislature recognized the importance of salary levels by increasing the size of the increases during the session.

Raises for faculty and administrative/professional staff are based on merit, and will be awarded from the 3.7 percent salary pool. In addition to the general 3.7 percent increase, the university will allocate funds for faculty and graduate assistant salaries in disciplines with special salary needs. It is expected that the 2001 salary increase will compare favorable with those granted by similar institutions nationally. The rate was left unstated for the second year so lawmakers could revisit the size of the increase.

“I hope this marks a turnaround,” Rawlins said. “I hope faculty members will renew their confidence that we can compete and hold on to our outstanding faculty.

“This budget and our own reallocation process put us in charge of our own destiny,” the president added.

The budget increase will provide classified staff a 3.7 percent salary increase for the first year. The Legislature provided special funding for salary increases ranging from 5-10 percent for classified employees in certain categories of information technology and finance. These are fields in which it has been particularly difficult to recruit. The raises are effective Jan. 1, 2002.

The budget also funds additional students for WSU Spokane and WSU Vancouver in the biennium’s second year. The final budget, too, provides $300,000 for the Advanced Technology Initiative projects.

There also was some progress in helping lawmakers understand that budget increases should not be tied to enrollment hikes. The budget notes that $951,000 can be used for current instruction and student-related expenses. Use of revenue from tuition increases also will provide some flexibility. The Legislature authorized the Board of Regents to increase tuition by as much as 6.7 percent in 2001-02 and 6.1 percent in 2002-03.

However, cuts in several university budget areas will have to be made up.

The Legislature cut the university’s budget base by $4.7 million, or a little more than 1 percent. The final budget also does not provide for utility rate increases or other inflation, a price tag estimated at more than $6 million. The university is working on a plan to cover the shortfalls with tuition and other adjustments so costs are not passed on to departments.

In its capital budget, the Legislature appropriated more than $100 million to WSU for buildings and infrastructure.

“We showed how our capital requests were tied to academic priorities,” Rawlins said, “and we did well.”

The Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and many other community leaders joined the university in successfully pressing the Legislature for $2 million in design funding for the Spokane Academic Center at Riverpoint. The design funding will lead to a new $45 million Washington State University Riverpoint library, student services building, electronic classrooms and lecture hall to be completed in 2005. The project was not included in any House or Senate budget prior to the final capital budget compromise this week. The new academic building will be the centerpiece of the Riverpoint campus, uniting WSU’s programs except nursing, at a single location. WSU is currently leasing space at the Metropolitan Finance Center.

In the capital budget the Legislature funded the following WSU projects:

— $23 million for a new Pullman campus energy plant. Legislation allows the university to develop a public/private partnership to develop the new plant that replaces a 70-year-old system.

— $15.9 million for a WSU Vancouver multimedia/electronic classroom building that includes a high-tech classroom, multimedia production lab, photography darkrooms and computer laboratories.

— $10.9 million for an addition to the Murrow Communications Center. It will provide a 24,022 square-foot addition to the Murrow School of Communication.

— $10.6 million for a new shock physics building and renovation of some classrooms in Webster Physical Sciences Building.

The WSU capital budget also provides for $3.5 million for the design of Johnson Hall Addition for a plant bio-sciences building and $1.5 million for design of a Vancouver student services building to serve the growing WSU Vancouver student population. Also in the budget is $11.5 million for campus infrastructure and $24 million for minor projects including veterinary equipment, computer networks and safety modifications.

The budgets now require Gov. Gary Locke’s signature.