Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 2/3/10
A Threat to Research
As the budget process in Olympia moves forward, we at Washington State University recognize that we will share in the cutbacks mandated by the state’s fiscal shortfall.
However, we must and will resist any reductions that will have crippling and irreversible impacts on our university and on our state. A potential threat to $26 million in state funding for research, primarily agricultural research, clearly falls in that category.
It is important to put this issue in context. At this point, we have only received a request from Senate and House fiscal committee staffers regarding our state research dollars. However, we are concerned that money may be at risk because of a quirk in the federal legislation regarding stimulus funding.
The law mandates that states using stimulus funds must commit themselves to “maintenance of effort,” in areas where the money is used. As a result, states are restricted on how deeply they can cut budgets in many areas. Unfortunately, “research and development” funding is exempt from those restrictions. That could make our state research funding an available and attractive target as legislators face the difficult task of balancing Washington’s budget.
About $21 million of the at-risk funding is located in the WSU Agricultural Research Center. These funds primarily pay the salaries of the faculty members, support, and many graduate students who conduct the research, teach the course and conduct portions of the extension programs in agriculture for WSU. These funds are the majority of the salary base for our College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.
We have used that money to leverage approximately $40 million in new external grants and contracts so far this fiscal year. So, that funding has already paid for itself nearly two times over and the fiscal year still has almost five more months to run.
The immediate impact of a deep cut in our research funding would be devastating, the long-term impact catastrophic.
How would WSU cope? Closure of all four of WSU’s agricultural research and extension centers around the state, as well as most Pullman-based facilities, is a likely outcome. Deep cuts in agricultural research, teaching and extension personnel around the state would be another.
Agriculture remains the largest employer in Washington’s economy, producing an estimated $30 billion in economic value yearly. As the state’s land-grant university, Washington State University is proud to say that those farmers depend on our research. From the wheat farmers on the Palouse to the tree fruit growers in the Columbia River Valley to the vintners around our state, the people who put safe food and wine on our tables and money in our economies, both rural and urban, value us as partners.
In the increasingly competitive world agricultural market, Washington’s farmers and the food industry need the advantage that locally focused and responsive research from WSU provides. If we do not maintain that edge, the economic impact would be swift and jobs, once lost, would be unlikely to return.
You can find more information about how our agricultural research efforts are benefitting our state at http://cahnrs.wsu.edu/research/
Again, this is, for right now, only a request for information from legislative staffers. We hope and expect that legislators, once they examine the issue closely, will conclude that cutting agricultural research would be both short-sighted and counter-productive as our state seeks to pull itself out of recession.
However, it is important for all of us to stay up to date on the issues facing our university as the budget deliberations continue. I will continue to share information with you in the weeks ahead.