Requests outstrip state’s finances

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Saturday, November 30, 2013 9:38pm

OLYMPIA — Washington State University is trying to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the state budget next year in order to add more courses in Everett.

WSU is seeking $1 million to offer bachelor’s degrees in software engineering and agriculture through the University Center on the campus of Everett Community College.

University officials are hoping Gov. Jay Inslee will include it in the supplemental budget he’ll release later this month.

It’s among a pile of requests received by Inslee and his budget writers at the Office of Financial Management, many of which may not be filled since the state’s financial situation isn’t much different than in June when Inslee signed a new two-year budget.

“There’s not going to be a lot of money,” said David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management. “There will be very few new items.”

The 2013-15 budget signed in June by Inslee spends $33.4 billion out of its general fund. It had $215 million in reserves and $582 million in the rainy day account that cannot be tapped without action by the Legislature.

Since then tax collections have come in pretty much as forecast. However, increases in the number of students and people needing public services are eating up those gains, Schumacher explained.

As a result, the supplemental spending plan Inslee will put out the week of Dec. 16 is expected to make small adjustments in agency budgets and not be laden with expensive initiatives. Lawmakers will consider Inslee’s proposal in the 2014 session.

WSU’s effort to expand in Everett has enjoyed solid support in the Legislature.

After launching a degree program in mechanical engineering in 2012, it secured $2 million in June to offer courses this fall in electrical engineering, communications and hospitality-business management.

If the Pullman-based research university gets another $1 million next year it will begin classes in software engineering, and agriculture and food systems in January 2015, according to materials accompanying its request.

WSU is also asking Inslee to include $3 million in his budget for salary hikes for all of its classified employees. It would cover a 4 percent hike in January plus a 4 percent increase in the current salary schedule for classified workers.

“Compensation must be set at competitive levels to retain remaining high-quality staff now operating in more demanding environments in the wake of the economic recession and the austerity measures it required,” university officials wrote in materials submitted with the request.

Not surprisingly, the single largest request to Inslee is for public schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn asked for $438.9 million, including $385.6 million for basic education programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Dorn said it is the minimum needed to keep the state on track to fully fund basic education by 2018 as ordered by the Supreme Court.

The Legislature made a $1 billion downpayment in this current budget. But Dorn said it should have been higher because it will require as much as $6 billion in additional money to comply with the court’s demand in its McCleary decision.

Schumacher didn’t sound optimistic that Dorn’s request can be filled.

“There’s not much capacity to do anything at all,” he said. “There’s just nothing there.”

Dorn said lawmakers aren’t talking about pushing to make another sizable payment for public schools. Rather, they are talking more about working on a transportation package and getting out of town on time, he said.

“I do not think it bodes well,” he said. “I believe I will be teeing up a bill that does a lot and basically I will tell legislators that you took an oath of office, so stand up and uphold your oath.”

A new legal marijuana industry has one agency looking for money to beef up its staff.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board wants $6.4 million for 23 new full-time positions. It’s expected they’ll be needed by the spring when the agency begins issuing hundreds of licenses for businesses to grow, process and sell marijuana.

Most requests are for smaller amounts.

For example, Department of Licensing officials are trying to clear away a backlog of paperwork involving pistol sales. They’ve asked for $409,000 to hire seven part-timers who can input the records.

Inslee also will submit a supplemental capital budget for lawmakers’ consideration. Again, don’t expect any big ticket items in it.

There is a request for $700,000 for the continued clean-up of diesel fuel spilled on the grounds of the Monroe Correctional Complex.

And TVW, which provides live coverage of legislative proceedings, is seeking $2.84 million to replace cameras and production equipment, and to upgrade wiring to improve its signal transmission.

In its request, station officials said the money would “ensure continued and uninterrupted public access” to House and Senate committee hearings, news conferences and other public events in the Capitol and legislative buildings.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

Talk to us