Urban campus studies move ahead

Washington Gov. Gary Locke on April 1 signed into law the supplemental capital and operating budget acts. These acts represent changes to the 2003-2005 biennial budget passed by the legislature last spring. The Washington supplemental budget is notable since it adds funding to higher education at a time when many states are imposing additional budget cuts.

The largest project approved in the budget is $31.4 million to construct the Spokane Academic Center. Construction will begin later this spring.

Locke used the line-item veto to eliminate the legislative appropriation of $3.4 million to begin construction of the Pullman Wastewater Reclamation project. The veto came as a surprise since the governor had earlier recommended funding of the project. However, Locke originally recommended a proviso limiting the amount of state funding for the project, a proviso the legislature removed.

Approved in the operating budget for WSU is $1 million to support 191 additional general enrollments and $380,000 to conduct research on asparagus and oyster production.

The bill expands the high demand enrollment pool administered by the Higher Education Coordinating Board by $3.6 million, enough to fund 324 student FTE. With careful use of his veto pen, Locke removed language that would have allowed private institutions to compete for funds from this pool. He noted that, despite over-enrollment in public four-year institutions, funding is the limiting factor for high-demand degree production, not physical capacity. Siphoning some of this limited funding to private schools would exacerbate the problem, he said.

In the operating budget the governor vetoed provisos that would have required WSU Vancouver and UW Bothell to create plans detailing how the campuses would phase in lower division courses. He noted that Substitute House Bill 2707 directs all branch campuses to examine their service delivery options — from partnerships with community and technical colleges to adding lower division courses and becoming four-year universities. WSU Vancouver and WSU Tri-Cities will be presenting plans for major campus development under SHB 2707.

Locke also vetoed the proviso that stated legislative intent that institutions manage enrollment to be within 2 percent of the target. Locke said that, because every four-year institution and the two-year system as a whole are already over-enrolled, this language would have required institutions to reduce their current enrollment levels. He went on to say that this is the wrong time to reduce access to our higher education system.

Locke vetoed a section of the budget that would have cut travel and equipment budgets in all state agencies. While the impact on WSU would have been small, the proposed cuts to some other universities were sizable.