New WSU pres calls for spending sanity

You hear terms like “fiscal sanity” and “responsible budgeting” bandied about in government. Unfortunately you’re a lot more likely to hear it from critics and candidates than agency heads and bureaucrats.

The focus from those spending the money tends to be on growing their budget, getting a bigger share of the revenue pie, and expanding missions and mandates.

When you see a leader begin with a different approach, it’s refreshing. New WSU president Kirk Schulz has started his tenure with a full financial review of the university and an examination of its spending practices. That in itself is a positive signal (and one that’s earning Schulz plaudits).

Problems found
Evidently Schulz’s review wasn’t merely symbolic. He found looming problems in current university practices and is seeking to deal with them now rather than kick them down the road. Knowing that not everybody would be pleased to have these issues pointed out, he could have taken the “I’m the new guy, let’s not ruffle any feathers” approach.

Instead the new president chose to be politely blunt. He told the WSU community in an open letter:

“In short, we have been spending more money annually over the past couple of years than has been brought in, which is simply not sustainable. As a University we are spending down central reserves at a significant rate and will need to make some adjustments as to how we budget future building projects and new University initiatives.”

Complaining without offering a solution, it has been said, is called whining. If that’s the case, then the new president is no whiner. Schulz rolled out a road map to better practices at WSU, starting with a return to a more formal, planned-out budget process and more rigorous financial analysis.

Sacred cows
He’s also seeking to get a handle on WSU’s capital budget. Currently the university has a glut of new building plans that lack solid funding plans. As those plans have come to fruition, the shortfalls have been papered over with reserve funds. Schulz wants funding plans in place earlier in the process and more private philanthropic support.

The athletic department needs stronger short and long-term plans as well. A $13 million deficit isn’t sustainable, and other university programs shouldn’t have to suffer for it. UW is facing similar issues with its athletic department.

Schulz told the Spokesman-Review he believes “in transparency.” Clearly that extends to honest talk about spending university dollars wisely. Not a bad start for the new guy.
-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.