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.