Senator voices support for higher education

South Puget Sound Community College Senator for Public Relations Linh Huynh (right) writes down her group’s information while fellow Senator for Administrative Affairs Michelle Le (center) and Assistant Director for Advising and Outreach Anne Molenda (left) look on. Photo courtesy of Washington State Senate.

Washington State Sen. Michael Baumgartner was one of a few state legislators who took the podium at the student rally on the Capitol Campus Feb. 1. There he unveiled what he considers a possible solution to all Washington’s higher education funding problems; amending the Washington Constitution to include higher education funding as a government priority.

Sen. Baumgartner is a Republican representing the 6th District in Spokane, Wash. He will be campaigning for a position in the U.S. Senate this fall.

Of those that spoke at the rally, he was the only one to propose a solution to the budget cuts colleges are facing. According to Sen. Baumgartner, if other legislators put forward new or better ideas he is more than open to collaborating with them.

“It was nice to see someone actually put forward a solution than continue to define the problem,” said Dean of Student Life David Rector. According to South Puget Sound Community College students present at the rally, Mathew Shrader and Megan Rowland, hearing a solution was refreshing.

Amanda who declined to provide her last name, an SPSCC student who was not at the rally said, “I think that this is a great idea, colleges and students wouldn’t have to waste time worrying about future cuts or tuition hikes.”

On Jan. 27, he proposed an amendment to Article IX of the Washington Constitution (Senate Joint Resolution 8225) calling for funding of state higher education a government priority.

“No one here today will tell you that we shouldn’t care about higher education,” said Sen. Baumgartner, “but few people here will actually work to make it a priority. I need you to go out and fight for the solution. The solution is that higher education needs constitutional protection and a dedicated revenue source.”

His proposal calls for higher education funding to be placed in importance just beneath K-12 education. Currently, the language in the state constitution calls basic education the government’s “paramount duty.”

The funding needed for Sen. Baumgartner’s plan would be secured by using a portion of all existing sales tax revenue. According to his proposal this funding would amount to approximately $890 million.

“This is not a new tax,” Sen. Baumgartner said in his proposal, “it is a better prioritization of current taxpayer dollars.”

According to Washington state procedure, suggested amendments to the state constitution can be put forth by either the House or the Senate. The Legislature must then approve the original proposal or an alternative to it with a two-thirds majority vote. The approved proposal is then put on the ballot and the next state general election, and will become law if it is approved by a majority of the voters.

According to Sen. Baumgartner he supports higher education because it is essential for our economy and our society as a means for social mobility and equality.

“It is a system that we continue to defund at our own peril,” he said.

At the conclusion of his speech, Sen. Baumgartner urged students to take action and make their legislators pay more than just lip service to making higher education a priority.

Published: Feb. 13, 2011 here.