The Washington House narrowly voted Wednesday night to give major college trustees authority to boost tuition by as much as 15 percent a year, rebuffing critics who called it the biggest tax increase of the year.
The local option increases would be on top of the 5 percent-a-year increase House Republicans propose as part of the state higher education budget.
A coalition of fiscal conservatives and more liberal Democrats very nearly scuttled the tuition plan. But four Democrats, including the ranking minority member of the Higher Education Committee, Ken Jacobsen of Seattle, sided with 47 Republicans and pushed the measure through, 51-43.
The measure heads to an icy reception in the Senate.
Senate budget Chairwoman Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle, said earlier this week the state needs to address the long-term financial needs of the state’s network of public colleges, rather than relying increasingly on tuition dollars.
Indeed, the House action Wednesday night was a complete reworking of her own bill, SB5325, which would have required automatic state budget increases for higher education equal to the average growth in per-capita income, and proportionate increases in state tax-funding.
The Senate’s budget presumes a tuition increase almost as large as the House’s annual 5 percent boost. The Senate increase would be $42 million in the next two years, versus $49 million in the House’s base plan. But the Senate does not subtract the tuition amount from the taxsupported general budget for higher education - a major sticking point in current budget negotiations.
The House plan would allow trustees or regents of the four-year colleges and universities to raise tuition by as much as 15 percent each academic year. Every college except Evergreen has requested the localoption authority.
The authority would not extend to community colleges, except for outof-state students.
The local money - $88 million if the full capacity were levied - would stay on campus and could be used for any purpose approved by trustees.