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January 9, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Attorney General to look at whether I-1185 affects tuition increases

Did Initiative 1185, the voter-approved measure that requires a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature to increase taxes, rescind tuition-setting authority that was granted by lawmakers in 2011 to Washington universities?

Initiative supporter Tim Eyman and state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, say it did. Roach has asked the Attorney General’s Office to examine tuition-setting authority in light of I-1185, which passed in November.

But University of Washington officials say the Legislature has annually delegated the authority for universities to raise tuition in the budget bill, and I-1185 won’t change that. The initiative also requires a majority vote in the Legislature to raise fees, and tuition has been interpreted as a fee by the attorney general.

In an email to the attorney general, Roach said she believes that “the voters, by giving I-1185 almost two-thirds of the vote, clearly re-established the elected Legislature to make decisions on tuition, not unelected officials at state universities.”

The Attorney General’s office has looked at this issue once before, when it responded to a question about how I-1053, a similar tax initiative, would affect increases in tuition fees.

In 2011, State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, asked if that initiative required additional legislative action before a tuition increase could go forward.  The informal opinion was yes, although the attorneys wrote that the Legislature “could either enact a statute directly imposing or increasing a fee in a specified amount, or could instead delegate authority to impose or increase fees to an administrative agency.”

Margaret Shepherd, director of state relations for the UW, says the Legislature has routinely delegated the authority to impose or increase tuition to universities and colleges as part of its budget bill. Shepherd said this was true even before the Legislature gave the state’s schools tuition-setting authority. “We believe the same will be necessary and true after the passage of I-1185,” she said.

“The people, when they passed I-1053 in 2010, said they wanted fees set by the Legislature,” Eyman wrote. “The Legislature in 2011 delegated the authority. If Sen. Roach is correct (and based on the Benton informal opinion, she is), then the people in 2012 gave it back to the Legislature again.

“Think of it as a tug-of-war but the last ‘pull’ was the voters’ overwhelming approval of I-1185 last November,” he wrote.

The Attorney General’s Office is expected to give an informal opinion in a few weeks.

Comments | More in State Legislature | Topics: Initiative 1185, Pam Roach, Tim Eyman

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