Spin Control

I-1185 limits universities' power to raise tuition

OLYMPIA -- If state universities want to raise tuition, the Legislature will have to approve it, a letter from a state attorney to a state senator says.

The presidents of the state's six public universities recently told legislative leaders they could freeze tuition for two years if the Legislature would add $225 to the higher education budget. Implicit in that is the prospect of the schools raising tuition if the money isn't forthcoming.

The Legislature has reduced the state's share of funding for higher education in recent years, and tuition has gone up steadily, by double digits in the last two budget cycles.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire in her final budget proposed no tuition increases and no additional money for the public universities.  Legislators aren't bound by Gregoire's budget, but whether they provide something less than the $225 million the presidents are requesting, or no increases at all, they are in the driver's seat on tuition increases, a letter to Sen. Pam Roach from Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even says.

A majority of the Legislature must approve any tuition increase because of Initiative 1185, which passed in November, Even wrote. That law says a simple majority of both houses must pass any state fee, and tuition is a fee, he said. That matches up with previous attorney general opinions on earlier initiatives that placed restrictions on the ability to raise taxes and fees, he added.

The Legislature could approve specific tuition increases itself, or it could delegate the authority to increase tuition to another agency, Even wrote. But it would have to take some action regarding tuition for it to go up. 

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