Washington StateTuition Cut Success Should be Emulated Nationally

Washington State Republicans control only one house of the state legislature–the Senate. Yet this year they used skillful politics and diplomacy to get a new state budget that does not raise major taxes (a separate budget does raise the gas tax to pay for roads and bridges). It lives within the revenues of the current economy–and it cuts tuition for debt-burdened college students by some 20 percent. That is a milestone in education reform nationally and a tremendous boost for young people.

The tuition cut was opposed for a long time by the Democrats, who offered increasing student loan opportunities instead. But by the end of a regular session and two special sessions, with the public beginning to pay attention to the budget delays, the option of an actual tuition reduction turned out to be too appealing for Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, or the Democratic House to oppose.

It remains to be seen whether the Republicans in Washington or around the country will have the wit to follow up this triumph by advising young voters of what happened–and whether legislatures in other states will follow Washington’s example.

An editorial in Santa Fe (capital of New Mexico), correctly observes, “Interestingly, the idea was pushed by Republicans in Washington — they preferred cheaper tuition to more student loans or federal aid. Because the bill ties future tuition increases to median family wages, this reset could make a difference over the long term, especially in a state where tuition has gone up 34 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past five years. Washington’s public college tuition is still some 16 percent above the national average.”

A session-end report from our Discovery colleague, Hans Zeiger, who represents Puyallup in the state House, notes other elements of the budget that should cheer Republicans. The budget he says:

Invests about $1.3 billion in K-12 education, the state’s largest education budget in history;
reduces class sizes in grades K-3;

provides a cost-of-living raise for teachers;

makes significant investments in treatment and capacity for our mentally ill and preserves our health and human service safety net;
Increases funding for state parks; and

accomplishes these things with NO major taxes increases – capital gains, carbon, cap and trade and most Business and Occupations tax proposals were taken off the table.

Granted, the feasibility of the tuition cut was found in an increase in state aid for the university system. And some conservatives initially complained. But the state universities are just that–creatures of the state government–and either the state will take responsibility for them or let them deteriorate. But the cost of aid should not be borne by students who already have seen one tuition increase after another. The idea that college loans will make up for tuition increases has now been revealed to students for the deception it is. Almost all Republicans got behind the ultimate deal.

It is instructive, perhaps, that the Democrats’ desire for a carbon tax and a new capital gains tax (Washington has no income tax) failed to excite the public. The Republican Senate argued against them and, as mentioned, prevailed. When it comes to global warming and inequality issues, legislators figured out that the voters probably are not interested in bearing new or more taxes.