It’s obvious who actually cares about higher ed in Olympia

Key legislators are insisting that a budget deal will be sealed before large portions of state government must shut down. Some legislative leaders and members, however, seem determined to walk right up to the edge of the cliff and take a peek at the abyss.

As part of the negotiations, the Republican Senate and Democratic House both released updated budget proposals this week. The newest House budget confirms something that is well-known in Olympia but perhaps not by the general public: the best friends our colleges and universities have in the capitol are legislative Republicans.

That’s been true for a long time, but as the party that is more supportive of higher government spending, Olympia Democrats get undue credit as the education party. The reality is, when cuts have to be made, legislative Democrats have time and again put higher education funding on the chopping block first. When budgets are tight and priorities are revealed, higher education just isn’t one of their higher priorities.

Newest House budget actually cuts previous higher ed level
Budget negotiators are down to just a few details in their talks. Tuition levels are the main sticking point. House Democrats and Senate Republicans have had a difference on that all year. The Senate proposed a tuition cut in all of its budgets. The best the House has offered is flat tuition. Even in their “Book 2” budget that assumes some new tax increases, House Democrats didn’t choose to lower tuition.

Their latest budget proposal makes clear that House Democrats see higher education funding as a political pawn in negotiations. In fact, their “Budget 3.0” actually reduces higher education funding by $150 million from the amount they proposed in their previous budget.

That means I’m not the only one who thinks legislative Republicans are higher ed’s best friends; legislative Democrats think so, too. They proposed that cut so they can negotiate with Republicans to restore it in exchange for some spending Democrats care more about.

It’s basically a tacit admission by the Democrats that our colleges and universities are more important to Republicans than to themselves.

The Senate’s plan to cut tuition is the right move for our state’s families. After many years of big tuition hikes, we need to make college affordability important again. House Democrats would rather have a different conversation about other issues that are more important to them.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • Rebecca H.

    I’m a student at UW who was invited to share my story of college affordability (or lack thereof) on Capitol Hill a few months back. I traveled with a group of ASUW representatives (though I am not one myself) who met with one Republican legislator and several Democrat legislators trying to lobby for a metric to be defined for “affordability” (namely, that it include cost-of-living rather than just flat tuition expenses). A common theme in all our meetings was the fact that since the recession, tuition has skyrocketed as the 70%-30% state-student coverage that was previously the norm has now been completely reversed. The Republicans were the only ones who were willing to propose solutions (some of which were downright creative) to try and ease the burden. The Democrats were mostly gung-ho about the language we were using (and really, it was just a codification of language that was being put forth) but time and time again the words I heard from them were “we really support this but of course, the Republicans are going to fight us on this, because they will refuse to give us the money.”
    I’m a moderate Republican myself, and I found it rather telling and interesting how the Republicans were the ones proposing actual solutions while the Democrats were just adding fuel to the partisan fire. It was also disheartening to me that our student group was more or less unwilling to consider the Republican point of view, and was meeting primarily with Democrats because they were viewed as our “allies”. Needless to say, I feel slightly justified now, especially since I shared my personal story with Democrat legislators (I was willing to share with whomever would listen, and they happened to be the ones listening that day) and nothing seemed to come of it. I do hope the Senate proposal goes through, as students such as myself who are low-income, but still debt-burdened and required to work 20+ hours a week while attending class full-time just to be able to survive and pay bills are the ones who are falling through the cracks. I applaud the Senate Republicans for being willing to correct the gross injustices inherent within our current higher ed structure, and I do hope that the Democrats will see past their hyper-partisanship and prioritize accordingly.