Higher education could be tapped for state budget

KENNEWICK — Community college and university officials have been told to plan for more budget cuts to balance the state’s 2015-17 budget.

The Office of Financial Management is expecting the state to need at least another $1 billion in revenue to meet its needs for the next biennium. Before Gov. Jay Inslee develops his budget proposal, colleges as well as other state agency have been told to make requests that include up to 15 percent reductions, The Tri-City Herald reported.

“We can’t (make cuts) based on efficiencies anymore,” said Marty Brown, executive director for the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Asking for more cuts right after the Legislature started increasing college and university budgets is disheartening for higher education leaders.

Last year, the state provided an additional $3.1 billion to the public universities and community college system, a 12 percent increase compared with the previous biennium.

“The Legislature really moved mountains to invest in higher education and we need to continue down that path,” said Chris Mulick, Washington State University’s director of state relations.

College and university officials say cutting into higher education has the potential to “starve the pipeline of workers,” said Columbia Basin College President Rick Cummins. The college likely would look at cutting out programs or courses as there are few places to cut that won’t directly affect students.

“Taking money from the higher education system just weakens the economy,” he said.

Officials say Washington has one of the best job growth rates in the country, but that hasn’t significantly boosted consumption, so income tax revenue isn’t keeping up.

The colleges and universities, along with the other affected agencies, will be meeting with budget officials in the coming weeks to work out their budget requests.

Next week the state’s next revenue forecast is due to be released. That and another one in the fall will guide the governor in his budget recommendation to the Legislature.

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