The Washington Senate voted 37-12 Wednesday to reduce state college tuition by significant amounts on Wednesday. But such a move appears to have a $354 million price tag for fiscal 2015-2017, with no revenue identified yet to handle that load.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, would link annual tuition costs to the average annual wage in Washington, which is currently $52,635. The measure now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The plan calls for the largest universities to have the highest tuition rates. Tuition at the two research universities, the University of Washington and Washington State University, would be capped at 14 percent of the average annual wage. At Evergreen State College and the three regional state universities, that cap would be 10 percent of the average annual wage. Tuition at state community and technical colleges would be capped at 6 percent of the annual average wage.
A fiscal note attached to the bill calculates that the legislation would make the following reductions in the maximum overall tuition and student fees from the current 2014-2015 school year to the coming 2015-2016 year: University of Washington, $11,695 to $8,324; Washington State University, $11,418 to $8,451; Eastern Washington University, $7,372 to $6,145; Central Washington University, $7,941 to $,6,251; Western Washington University, $8,088 to $6,143; Evergreen, $7,845 to $6,141; and community and technical colleges, $4,000 to $3,941. No school would be allowed to charge more next year than what it charges now.
The same fiscal note estimated that the tuition reductions will trim the universities' 2015-2017 biennial revenues by just under $150 million at the UW and more than $97 million at WSU. Western could lose nearly $45 million and Central, $30 million. Eastern and Evergreen would lose about $9 million apiece. Losses at the community and technical colleges across the state would be $14.3 million.
All told, the state colleges and universities can expect roughly $354 million in lost university revenue for the two-year period of 2015-2017.
Eleven minority Democrats joined 26 members of the Majority Coalition Caucus to support the bill. Twelve Democrats voted against it, expressing concern because no source has been identified for covering the $354 million hit to the state budget.
"I'd like to support this bill, said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia. “But I can't until we find the money. Show me the money.”
The Senate Republicans expect to unveil a proposed $37 billion state operating budget in a few weeks. Braun said the lost revenue will make up a small fraction of the coming budget and can be fitted in with little trouble.
He said, "We're just making higher education a priority as we craft the $37 billion budget.