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Washington State University

Office of the PResident

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 2/26/10

This Year’s Budget Process

As the Legislature continues to work through its session in Olympia, the size of the budget reduction that Washington State University is likely to face in the upcoming fiscal year is becoming more clear.

On Tuesday, both the Senate and House released their proposed budgets for the 2011 fiscal year. The Senate proposed a $13.7 million, or 6.3 percent, reduction in our allocation; the House calls for an $8.6 million, or 4 percent, decrease. Gov. Christine Gregoire’s original budget proposal reduced our allocation by $13.55 million. Those figures give us a good idea of the range of likely outcomes.

As a result, we expect that our actual state budget allocation for the upcoming fiscal year will be at roughly the same level it was nine years ago. Of course, that figure does not account for  inflation or for our university’s enrollment growth of roughly 20 percent during that period.

It does us little good to decry these cuts. We must, instead, adapt to them. And we must do so in a way that reflects our core principles: to do what we can to protect our people; to maintain a focus on academic quality; and to proceed in as transparent a manner as possible.

In the wake of the budget announcements from Olympia this week, Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick Bayly and I have held several meetings with academic and administrative leaders from across the university to discuss our budget process.

Our current plan is to absorb the cuts centrally by creating a centrally held deficit which we must subsequently pay off. Here is what that means.

Inevitably, in the course of an academic year, job openings occur. People retire, they move into other positions outside the university, they choose to leave the workforce for a variety of reasons.

Earlier this year, the Board of Regents approved a voluntary retirement incentive program for WSU participants in the retirement programs administered by the state Department of Retirement Systems. That plan is presently open to eligible staff. In March, we will be asking the regents to approve a voluntary early retirement incentive for faculty and administrative staff as well. That program will be similar to the plan we instituted last spring.

The goal of both plans is to provide a positive incentive for people who are thinking about retiring. While such plans regrettably result in the loss of some valuable personnel, that is the price the university must pay in pursuit of a larger goal.

When positions become vacant—either through retirement or routine attrition—those positions will come under the authority of the provost’s office. There, the decision will be made, in consultation with leaders of the affected departments, about whether that position should be filled or eliminated, with any savings being used to pay down the central deficit. That process will allow us to take a global view of the best way to use scarce resources. We will look beyond artificial boundaries between colleges, departments, or administrative units to find the best solutions.

The decisions will not be easy, but they will be strategic in that they will be based on existing prioritized hiring plans.

This process, coming as it does on the heels of last year’s major budget reduction, is another step toward the strategic restructuring of this university. The final outcome may be less dramatic—at least when judged by programs curtailed or eliminated—than last year’s result. However, it will have a significant impact on the way we all do our jobs at this university every day.

The provost and I will continue to encourage deans, vice presidents and department heads to examine their operations closely to find where savings can be achieved. We hope, however, that this process will keep them from having to impose short-sighted cuts simply to meet a budget-reduction target.

While the budget cuts and our resulting process are vital issues, I should also take this opportunity to highlight some good news that emerged from this week’s budget announcements.

Both the House and Senate budgets largely restore the State Need Grant program, which is vital to the nearly 5,000 students at our university who depend on that source of financial aid. Also, neither of the budgets called for reductions to state research funds to WSU. That money helps pay for agricultural research statewide while also providing much of the salary base for our College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

We will know more about where we stand in the next couple weeks when the Legislature sends its budget to the governor. I will use this forum and others to keep you posted and will also be meeting with people across our campuses to gather their thoughts as we move forward.