With a $1 billion state revenue shortfall predicted for the upcoming biennium, University of Washington students are calling on the Legislature to approve new resources of revenue and restore funding to higher education.
The students, who unveiled their legislative agenda at a press conference at University Book Store Tuesday morning, support a capital gains tax, which could raise as much as $700 million revenue for the state. They also support legislation that would restructure research and development tax credits, which would raise about $26 million a year.
“Investing in higher education is the way to get the economy back on track,” said Melanie Mayock, vice-president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. “Without new revenue this year, there’s no way we’re not going to see cuts to higher education.”
The students were joined by Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who noted that five years ago the cost of undergraduate, in-state tuition and fees at the UW was 10 percent of the median household income. This year, the cost – more than $12,000 a year – is 20 percent. “It is unacceptable,” he said.
Pollet said he thinks the capital gains tax has a good chance of passing this year – in part because he’s confident that the state Supreme Court will strike down the Tim Eyman-backed Initiative 1053 that requires all tax bills to pass by a two-thirds vote. However, a similar initiative was approved by voters again last week.
Evan Smith, president of the undergraduate student government, said students are also paying attention to a proposal by Washington State University President Elson Floyd that would limit WSU tuition increases. Floyd has said that if the Legislature maintains or exceeds current budget levels for higher education, WSU would tie tuition increases to the cost of living.
“That’s a courageous proposal by WSU,” said Smith, who said one of the worst problems with unpredictable tuition hikes is that they make it hard for students and their families to make financial plans. The UW has raised tuition by double-digit percentages four years in a row, including a 20 percent hike in 2011.
Smith also spoke in favor of new legislation that would support the creation of student committees to help guide university policy and decisions. Smith said that because state support has been sharply cut back, students now pay more than 70 percent of the overall cost of college; the state, which once picked up 80 percent of the cost, now pays for only about 30 percent.
That makes students one of the biggest shareholders in the system. Students are working to try to get university administrations to back their proposal, he said.