Shawna Leader / The AS Review

The recent proposed cuts to higher education have incited students  to share their concerns at the legislative level. Last weekend, Western students traveled to Olympia for Viking Lobby Day to communicate the impacts the budget cuts will have on students. In addition, a rally will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 in the PAC Plaza to give students an opportunity to protest the budget cuts, sign petitions and call their legislators.

Governor Christine Gregoire’s proposal for the 2010 supplemental budget, released last Tuesday, will cut approximately $3.8 million from Western’s budget and suspend the state work study program. The proposed budget assumes no increases in revenue, meaning that factors such as tuition and other fees are assumed to be the same as stated in Western’s 2009 budget. A final budget, which will include revenue increases, is expected in March.

Legislators will vote on it and if it fails, they will have to go into special session, Legislative Liaison Jamie Marine said.
To cover the $3.8 million cut, tuition would need to be increased past 14 percent, which is the minimum  the board of trustees can levy in a year, AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs Morgan Holmgren said.  The 14 percent increase in tuition that took place last year and will take place again this year were set in place in order to address the previous round of budget cuts, he said.

The proposed budget, if passed as is, will impact financial aid services such as work study and the State Need Grant program, increase class sizes and decrease the availability of classes and academic advising, according to the governor’s budget proposal.

With this scenario, the work study program will be suspended for one year. According to a fact sheet compiled by Marine, approximately 9,400 students at 55 institutions (state and private schools) will lose their on-campus jobs.

Another area taking a hit in the budget proposal is the State Need Grant, which will be cut by 60 percent if the budget passes as is. According to a bulletin from the Office of Financial Aid, approximately 831 Western students who otherwise would have received financial aid would not receive a total of $1,489,000 if the proposed budget is implemented.

In a letter dated Dec. 9, 2009 that Holmgren wrote to the AS board of directors, the AS Legislative Affairs Council and the Student Senate, Holmgren said, “students whose families make between 50 percent and 70 percent of Median Family Income will lose their State Need Grant eligibility.”

“If we increase tuition by 30 percent, 25 percent, 20 percent next year and we also see the State Need Grant getting cut by anywhere close to what the governor’s budget is cutting … they’re [students depending on the State Need Grant] not going to be able to afford Western,” Holmgren said in a recent interview.

The administrations of Washington state schools, Western included, will likely be asking for local tuition setting authority, Holmgren said. Local tuition setting authority allows the schools’ board of trustees, rather than the legislature, to set tuition rates. Other proposals for tackling the budget cuts include revenue packages, which would include increasing the rate of sales tax or another tax, and reforms.

“If there are realistic proposals to still provide the services the state does, but without costing the state much, those are the kinds of things we’re talking about when it comes to reform,” Holmgren said. “If we can save money while changing things, rather than just cutting budgets, that’s preferable.”

However, reforms and tax increases are unlikely to completely cover the state’s $2.6 billion deficit.

If the budget situation seems hopeless, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, last year Western received $8 million from the federal government’s federal stimulus bill. The federal government has required that state funding to state schools not be lower than funding levels in 2006, meaning that if the state were to fund schools lower than they did in 2006, the state would be required to give back the federal stimulus money.

Students also have the ability to take matters into their own hands and affect the budget process. No matter where they live, students have at least three state legislators they can call (two representatives and one senator). E-mails are usually taken less seriously than calls or letters, Holmgren said. Students can call 1-800-562-6000 and, after they provide their address, be connected to their legislator’s phone line.

The most effective way to communicate concerns about the budget to legislators is through personal testimonies, Holmgren said. Students need to explain to legislators the impact that budget decisions will have on their personal lives in terms of education, Holmgren said.

“It’s great for us to talk about numbers, it’s great for us to talk about statistics and talk about the theoretical reasons for why you shouldn’t cut four-year higher education,” Holmgren said. But personal stories have a far greater impact, he said.

Additionally, students can contact Holmgren (asvp.gov@wwu.edu) and Legislative Liaison Jamie Marine (as.legislative.liaison@wwu.edu) and give their personal testimonies to them. Marine lobbies in Olympia on behalf of Western students and can use students’ testimonies in committee meetings and meetings with legislators.