A Senate panel has buried Gov. Mike Lowry’s higher education funding plan, but it gave encouraging signals Monday to tuition plans that would shore up sagging state tax support for public colleges.
Senate Higher Education Chairman Al Bauer, D-Vancouver, said the Democratic governor’s proposal has little or no support in the Senate, even among Lowry’s own party. But Bauer said the issue is far from dead and that his panel probably would endorse a proposal next week.
Among several options, the committee and college lobbyists gave the greatest support to a plan sponsored by Senate Budget Chairwoman Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle. Her bill, SB5325, would tie tuition growth to the average increase of personal income - roughly 4 percent or 5 percent a year - and would commit the state to maintaining its tax funding of higher education.
Lowry’s plan calls for no state-set increase, but would give permission for local-option increases of up to 6 percent a year for instate undergraduates and up to 10 percent a year for all other students. He would use a business tax diversion of $60 million to increase student financial aid.
His budget would finance a modest increase of 2,341 students, with much of that financed through a worker retraining fund.
Lowry’s tuition proposal would be used largely to pay for salary increases for faculty and staff.
Rinehart obliquely criticized the governor’s plan, saying tuition policy should be long-range in scope, rather than solving a short-term financial problem, such as salaries or a dip in state budget support.
“You should never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, and without a shopping list,” she said. “You shouldn’t set policy based on a fiscal crisis.”
Without tying tuition increases to a requirement for proportionate support from the state treasury, “you’re in a whole downward spiral” in which tuition dollars slowly supplant tax support, she said.
Her proposal would boost tuition by 4.3 percent in the coming school year and by another 5.3 percent the following year. It would raise about $57 million. At least $15 million of that would go for financial aid.
Tuition at the University of Washington and Washington State University, now $2,907 a year, would go to $3,192 in the second year. At the other four-year schools, tuition would rise from $2,256 a year to $2,477 after the second round of increases. Community college tuition, now $1,296, would go to $1,426.