With votes tallied and decisions finalized, the results of the November elections are being felt immediately, both here in Bellingham as well as on a national scale.
On a local level, the passage or failure of several initiatives, specifically 1098, 1107, and 1053, will have a great impact on higher education institutions in Washington state.
Byron Starkey, Associated Students vice president of governmental affairs, said that the ideal situation for Washington universities would have been for I-1053 and I-1107 to fail, and for I-1098 to pass.
Starkey said that the passage of I-1053 means that it will be that much harder for the state legislature to pass tax increases, which could ultimately result in less funding for education. The initiative requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass any increase, which is not likely to ever happen, Starkey said.
The passage of I-1107, which repeals the recently enacted bottled water and candy tax, will reduce the amount of revenue generated by the state, which will then have to be made up in other ways.
Morgan Holmgren, AS Representation and Engagement Programs associate director, said that the passage of I-1107 means that a significant chunk of revenue will be lost, and the state will have to combat the $5 billion shortfall in the 2011 legislative cycle almost entirely through budget cuts. He said that these cuts will likely effect Western’s funding from the state.
The AS will continue to fight to keep tuition affordable and financial aid available, he said.
“We’re doing whatever we can to really limit the damage that future budget cuts will have on Western students,” Holmgren said. “Even if we had an ideal scenario, there still would have been deficits going into the 2011 legislative session. Now it’s all about getting students motivated to make sure we aren’t the ones getting left out or cut disproportionately.”
Lastly, the failure of I-1098, which would have placed an income tax on high wage-earning individuals, represents a loss of nearly $2 billion that would have been distributed among higher education and health care services in the state.
Remy Levin, AS elections coordinator, said it is up to Western students now more than ever to put pressure on lawmakers to reduce cuts to higher education programs.
“Right now, we’re putting together a legislative agenda to lobby lawmakers to stop cuts to education,” Levin said. “It’s one of the biggest things we can do in the face of this. We need to put pressure on lawmakers to not victimize education.”
Starkey said that forming relationships with newly elected officials will play a key part in the future of state funding for Western. He said that it is hard to say what effect the initiatives will have on funding.
“With so many newly elected representatives, we don’t know what the political climate is like for higher education or what the receptiveness for higher education funding will be,” Starkey said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, but there would have been uncertainty no matter what the outcome.”
AS Legislative Liaison Iris Maute-Gibson will be working to form relationships with the newly elected representatives.
“We’re not going to be telling a sob story about how cuts to Western hurt, because they’re hurting everything,” Maute-Gibson said. “Our goal will be to say that if we don’t get more funding, we’re going to see an increase in things like student debt. We want to put education on the forefront of people’s minds as an active way to make Washington a better place.”
As election results are finalized and new lawmakers take office, Starkey said he encourages students to contact their local politicians. He said that writing letters, making phone calls and even scheduling visits to personally talk to lawmakers are all effective ways of getting student voices heard.
“It’s about maintaining contact with the people we just voted in,” Starkey said. “The number one thing we can do is be active participants and utilize our representatives and the power they have to make decisions on our behalf.”