Update from Olympia

Sherry Burkey and Byron Starkey
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 11:46am
WWU Government Relations

The 60-day legislative session has already passed its halfway point, with many of the first major policy deadlines having been reached. This year’s session is much shorter than “budget sessions,” when the legislature sets the biennial budget. Due to a dwindling revenue projection that estimates a $1.5 billion shortfall, legislators are expected to cram a policy session and a budget session into just 60 days.

Western has an active presence in Olympia with strong, collaborative efforts among students, faculty, alumni, staff and administrators who all are continuing to be great advocates for Western. WWU President Bruce Shepard participated in a highly successful town hall hosted by the Seattle Times with all the public university presidents and a panel of business leaders from Boeing, Microsoft and REI. They highlighted the impact additional state budget cuts will have on Washington’s higher education system and higher education’s connections to the state economy.

President Shepard has been spending time in Olympia meeting with key legislators to discuss the important role Western plays in serving the needs of the state and its citizens. Western Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Rich Van Den Hul also visited Olympia and he highlighted the capital priorities of the university. Vice President for University Relations Steve Swan was in Olympia working on issues related to Western’s contribution to the economic vitality of the region and the state.

Two members of Western’s Board of Trustees, Trustee Dennis Madsen and Trustee Ralph Munro, participated in a daylong event that included discussions with legislators focused on the value of public higher education in the state. They were joined by trustees and regents from all the public four-year institutions and trustees from the community and technical colleges. A total of 28 trustees and regents participated. The visit was so successful that trustees and regents held another day of meetings in Olympia on Feb. 8.

The six baccalaureate institutions have been working closely with legislators to implement a series of regulatory reforms and statutory updates that will allow the universities to streamline business practices and limit duplicative reporting requirements. Legislative committees have additionally been focusing a large portion of time on creating the replacement agency/ council for the Higher Education Coordinating Board. Hundreds of bills have been introduced this session and there are bills of particular interest to higher education still moving through the process, including bills relating to student advising, performance and accountability, high demand jobs and equipment purchases. Policy bills need to move out of the House of origin by Feb. 14.

The second half of the session undoubtedly will be focused on addressing the state budget shortfall. Budget and revenue conversations have been ongoing among legislative leadership, and the first look at proposed budgets will be soon after the Feb. 16 revenue forecast. Legislators will then be forced to reconcile any differences that exist between the proposals passed by the House and Senate to create a final budget that will be sent to the governor for approval. The final day of the 60-day session is scheduled for March 8.