On Friday, Washington state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) introduced legislation that would increase higher-education funding by $890 million by dedicating a portion of the state sales tax to college and university operations.
“Higher education is often the dividing line between a secure job and years of struggle,” Baumgartner said. “We must assure colleges are funded adequately to have a strong economy with a skilled workforce.”
Senate Joint Resolution 8225 would amend Article IX of the Washington State Constitution, which makes providing for basic education the state’s “paramount duty,” to make higher education the second-highest duty of the state. It also would establish a dedicated funding source for higher education: 1.75 cents of every retail sales dollar on which tax is collected.
“Just as K-12 education was essential in the 20th century, higher education and training is critical in the 21st,” Baumgartner said. “After studying budget decisions over the past decade, it is clear that to keep college as a practical option for the middle class; we must make it a constitutional priority with a dedicated source of funding.”
The 2011-13 operating budget appropriates $2.75 billion to higher education. However, state funding would need to increase by at least another $715 million, to $3.46 billion, to provide the traditional 50-50 split between state support for tuition and tuition at four-year universities. If enacted by the Legislature and approved by a vote of the people, SJR 8225 would provide $3.63 billion, or an additional $890 million, in dedicated revenue.
“This is not a new tax; it is a better prioritization of current taxpayer dollars,” said Baumgartner. “Twenty years ago the state paid 80 percent of the cost of higher education at four-year institutions; today that figure stands at just 36 percent.”
While overall state spending has increased dramatically and far outpaced the rate of inflation plus population growth, Baumgartner noted, the non-capital, adjusted-for-inflation rate of state spending on higher education has actually decreased by 8 percent per student over the last 20 years. As this has happened, he said, the state has also dramatically shifted the costs of higher education to students.
“The sad truth is that the Legislature continues the trend of the last 20 years in making a conscious decision to defund higher education and spend the money on other things,” warned Baumgartner.
“I am very worried that this will make a college education too expensive for working-class families who either aren’t rich enough to pay higher tuition or poor enough to qualify for financial aid.
“We must stop the erosion of state support for higher education. This amendment would keep the dream of a college education in reach for working-class Washingtonians and restore a 50-50 balance between students and the state in funding a four-year education.”
Amendments to the state constitution may be proposed in either branch of the Legislature. The Legislature must approve the original proposal or an alternative to the proposed initiative with a 2/3 vote. The approved proposal is then placed on the ballot at the next state general election, and becomes law if approved by a majority of the voters.
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