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New vote may be needed on tuition hikes

OLYMPIA — An informal opinion from the Washington attorney general’s office says lawmakers may need to take another vote on whether the state’s public universities can set their own tuition rates.

The opinion mailed Wednesday by Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even is in response to a question from state Sen. Pam Roach. It concludes that voter approval of Initiative 1185 on tax and fee increases applies to tuition, which is considered a fee. The opinion is based on the answer to a legislative query last year on fees.

The Legislature gave the state’s four-year schools tuition-setting authority in 2011. Double-digit tuition increases have nearly doubled tuition at Washington schools over the past five years.

Tim Eyman sponsored the tax-limiting initiative. He applauds the opinion and says he hopes the Legislature won’t decide to vote again to let the universities set their own tuition rates.

In her final budget proposal, outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the state’s four-year schools to consider freezing tuition for the next two years. They responded to news media questions by saying they would need some more cash from the state to make a tuition freeze feasible.

Sen. Roach, R-Auburn, said she was inspired to ask her question when the university presidents took that “arrogant shot across the bow.”

She believes voters want someone accountable to be making decisions like this that cost them money.

“Legislators divested themselves of the responsibility and authority,” Roach said. “Now we have the opportunity to take this responsibility back, which is the way it should be.”