From the president: I-1033 Presents Potential Challenges for Western

Bruce Shepard

A sampling of editorial opinions on I-1033 from around the state
Tough times would last longer under I-1033 | The Spokesman Review
Reject Initiative 1033, the wrong restraint on state spending | The Seattle Times
I-1033 puts unreasonable constraints on state and local governments | Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Reject Initiative 1033; right ailment, wrong cure | Tri-City Herald
The worst possible year for I-1033 | The News Tribune

By President Bruce Shepard

On Nov. 3, the people of Washington state will have the opportunity to exercise one of the fruits of living in a democracy, that being the right to vote.  With the election fast approaching, I am having more and more people approach me about one of the measures on the ballot, Initiative 1033, and how it could impact Western if it passes.

While I would never consider telling, or even suggesting, how anyone should vote, I think it is important as Western’s president to respond to these thoughtful questions by outlining for you a few of the possible outcomes for our university should this initiative pass on Nov. 3.  First and foremost, I believe Tim Eyman’s latest initiative could present us with some very significant challenges.

I don’t have to tell you that it has been a difficult year here at Western for students, faculty and staff coping with the unprecedented state budget cuts we experienced this past spring. Unfortunately, the state is forecasting additional cuts for the current year and most likely for next year as well because of projected revenue shortfalls. We already are planning to address this year’s cuts, but doing so with the hope that they can be restored when revenues increase in the future.

The actual ballot language for I-1033 states: “Initiative Measure No. 1033 concerns state, county and city revenue. This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including revenue-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies.”

Of significant concern is that I-1033 would limit state funding increases in revenue to inflation plus population growth – over calendar year 2010 levels – essentially capping our state operating funding at near current levels, which because of the budget cuts for the current biennium has rolled our FY 2009-10 budget back to the level of State General Fund funding we received in 1995-1996. This could create intense pressure on a whole range of ways on how we do business – from numbers of students served to levels of faculty and support staffing.

Our current biennial operating budget plan reflects a 28.8 percent funding reduction in maintenance-level state support – or $44 million – that is only partially offset by one-time federal stimulus dollars and tuition increases. During this biennium, state support for Western operations – which in past decades had been as high as 72 percent per year – for the first time falls below 50 percent threshold to 43 percent.

If I-1033 passes, and some recent polls show a majority of voters favoring the measure, then Western will have to deal with funding limits based on state revenues received during the worst recession in a half century. The hope has been, as the state economy recovers, that some of the funding slashed from our operating budget will be restored during better times. That will not happen, especially if state expenditures are essentially frozen at lower recessionary levels.

And since much of the state budget is mandated, such as K-12 education and Medicaid funding, higher education – which has been described as the state’s “credit card” – could see even more disproportionately severe future budget cuts. As the state’s funding to our budget remains stagnant, while many of our expenses rise, continuing hefty increases in tuition may become an unpleasant regular byproduct.

Please learn what you can about this initiative and its potential impacts on all services offered to the citizens of our great state. I urge all members of the university community to vote, and to vote for what you think is best for the citizens of our state. For more information on I-1033, please see Elections & Voting at the Web site for the Washington Secretary of State.

To comment on this column or on school funding and budgeting issues in general, visit Viking Village, Western's online forum.