October 19, 2009

Would public college education cost like a private school if tax-limiting I-1033 passed in Washington?

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rita_hibbardwebWhat will happen to higher education in Washington state if a controversial initiative that would limit tax revenue increases to the rate of inflation passes? One lawmaker says the bill for a public college education would look a lot more like private school tuition.

That’s because K-12 education is protected by constitutional mandate, they say. Not so higher-ed. And something’s got to give, reports Andrew Garber in the Seattle Times.

“The first cut is going to be in higher education. There is no constitutional mandate to maintain our higher-education institutions,” said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations Committee. “If these institutions are going to remain viable, they’re going to have to increase tuition to something more like private schools.”

Critics point out that the condition of the state budget means cuts were inevitable already, economic recovery or not. And it’s not just Washington state’s public institutions facing tough times. At the University of Oregon, a 9 percent state budget cutback resulted in a tuition and fee increase of about 15 percent since last year. Other state institution increases range from 3.5 percent to 10 percent.

University of Washington President Mark Emmert says that if I-1033 passes, students could at least expect to see more of the same. Tuition and fees for UW students are just under $6,000. 

The current state budget allows universities to increase tuition 30 percent over two years. Emmert concedes the measure would continue to put the screws to higher ed, which would inevitably drive up tuition.

And this isn’t the first state residents have heard of the private school tuition discussion. Last summer, UW officials quietly met with state officials to begin discussion of a so-called Robin Hood plan, whereby affluent students would pay much higher tuition rates to subsidize the tuition paid by less wealthy students. The end goal would be for the state’s premier institution to charge much higher tuition rates, more in the league of a private institution.

 “Going to $10,000 may not be a crazy thing to do over a period of time,”  Emmert said recently.

I-1033, the Washington ballot measure sponsored by Tim Eyman, would limit tax-revenue increases for state, city and county governments to the rate of inflation and population growth.  Voter-approved tax increases are exempt.

“Not counting projected increases in tax collections as the economy improves, budget writers expect to be around $5 billion in the hole in 2011, in part because federal stimulus money will run out by then,” the Times reports. “And that figure doesn’t include inflationary pressures such as increased health-care costs.”

 — Rita Hibbard

One thought on “Would public college education cost like a private school if tax-limiting I-1033 passed in Washington?

  1. It seems to me that the days of a “cheap” college education are already over. Here in Indiana, the tuition of $8000-$10,000/year for public colleges is no small cost.

    The business model of k-16 education is already busting at the seams, and I think it is going to take something more extreme than increasing revenue via taxes to make them sustainable.