2016 Session Overview

After 80 cumulative days in session, the Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die around 11:30 pm on Tuesday, March 29th. It marked the end of the 2016 Legislature and the special session that convened following the end of the regular session on March 10th. After hard-fought negotiations on important policy issues, the House of Representatives and Senate agreed on both a supplemental operating and supplemental capital budget. The Legislature debated 1,818 pieces of legislation, passing 292 to be signed into law by Governor Inslee.

Operating Budget

The supplemental operating budget increases spending from the 2015 biennial budget by $191 million. The Legislature prioritized $14 million towards addressing homelessness, $7 million towards recruiting and retaining public school teachers, and $41 million towards mental health programs. In addition to the new spending, $190 million was redirected from the Budget Stabilization Account (also known as the Rainy Day Fund) to address the damage done by the record-breaking wildfires of 2015. This budget does not raise taxes or include an increase to base teacher pay, both ideas that received much attention during the beginning of the session.

Evergreen will be experiencing a negative fiscal impact in ‘backfill’ tuition revenue from the tuition reduction plan passed in 2015. Due to lower than projected enrollments, we have a loss of $132,000 in state funding.

The operating budget also includes several provisos that are relevant to Evergreen and the higher education sector in Washington:

  • $18 million from caseload savings on the College Bound Program is shifted to the State Need Grant to maintain 2015 service levels in 2016-2017.
  • $180,000 is appropriated to the Washington Student Achievement Council to complete a study of for-profit degree-granting institutions and private vocational schools in Washington.
  • $250,000 is appropriated to the Washington Student Achievement Council to study the higher education needs in the Southeast King County area. The study will consider population changes, participation rates, workforce needs, commute times and existing higher education institutions.
  • $1.4 million toward increasing the number of teachers in Washington State.
  • All teacher preparation programs are now required to incorporate information on the culture, history and government of American Indian people in their curriculum. Evergreen already includes this information in our Masters in Teaching program.
  • A work group is implemented to study the benefits, challenges and best practices surrounding three-year accelerated degree programs.

Capital Budget

The supplemental capital budget makes new appropriations totaling $95.4 million, including $89.7 million in general obligation bonds. In addition, reappropriations are reduced by a total of $39.8 million, including a reduction of $423,000 in general obligation bonds.

Being a supplemental year, there are minimal projects funded in the budget. However, the capital budget includes one major item of significance for Evergreen. It provides the Office of Financial Management with the funding to appropriate $1.5 million to Evergreen to repair the extensive damage caused by the February 25th flood. The flood started in the basement of Lab II when a water pipe feeding into the fire suppression system burst, resulting in 129,000 gallons of water compromising the tunnels and impacting the Library Building, Seminar I, and the Central Utility Plant.

Legislation of Interest

Of the 292 bills passed this session, just a few of them impact Evergreen. However, this session was full of ideas about higher education from both chambers. Based on the tenor of the 2016 session, the 2017 session is sure to be exciting for higher education. I have included a few bills below that may impact Evergreen students.

  • SB 6466, sponsored by Senator Cyrus Habib, implements a workgroup to study the barriers students with disabilities face when transferring from a community college to a four-year institution or between four-year institutions. This workgroup will develop a plan for how to make the paperwork process seamless and ensure the students’ needs are met with the proper accommodations in a timely manner. Evergreen’s student lobbyists worked extensively on the bill and believe it takes a major step toward eliminating barriers for students with disabilities.
  • SB 6354, Sponsored by Senator Marko Liias, requires that we, along with the other four-year institutions, develop a plan to transfer credits from Evergreen to a community college. This would help students when a bachelor’s degree is out of reach but they have the proper credits to graduate with an AA.
  • SB 6455, sponsored by Senator Bruce Dammeier, aims to address the teacher shortage problem created by I-1351. Among other things, it incentivizes qualified Washington residents to enter the teaching profession by putting funding towards conditional grant and scholarship programs and expands Alternate Route Teacher Certification programs. Evergreen does not offer an Alternate Route Teacher Certification program at this time.
  • SB 6601, sponsored by Senator David Frockt, implements the Washington College Savings Program, a 529 savings plan for college tuition and expenses. Washington State created the GET program in 1998, allowing for families to purchase units that hold their value to be used for tuition at a later date. As GET is no longer accepting new enrollees, this will allow families to contribute to an account for a beneficiary to use on tuition and other school-related expenses.
  • SB 6293, sponsored by Senator John Braun, authorizes employers with student volunteers to obtain medical coverage for the students. This could open up opportunities for Evergreen students to volunteer at job sites and other locations.
  • SB 5928, sponsored by Senator Bruce Dammeier, authorizes Bellevue College to offer a BS in Computer Science.

On to 2017!

The unofficial theme of the session was access, affordability and attainment in the higher education committees. Evergreen’s students, as well as our two Washington Student Association lobbyists, truly shined in public testimony and meetings with individual elected officials, showing the Legislature just how much we value civic engagement.

Now we begin the countdown to the 2017 session, beginning January 9th. It is a 105-day race to come to an agreement on the 2017-2019 biennial budget and adopt the court-required plan in response to the 2012 McCleary ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that requires the Legislature to fully fund basic education.

Do you have questions about the legislature? Do you have a great bill idea that you think would positively impact Evergreen? Do you want to find out more about how YOU can be involved in the legislative process? Please stop by my office, Library 3209, or send me an email at rustc@evergreen.edu and we can talk about state government!

Until next time,