Sunday, December 12, 2010

Taking from the Poor to Give to the Rich and to Football in Washington State

Today's headline story in the Seattle Times reported that the WA legislature has cut $700 million from the state budget to deal with the current 1.1 billion shortfall. Among the biggest cuts- $50 million from public schools, $51 million from higher education, $27.7 million from health care for the poor, and $12.3 million from lifeline support for the disabled poor.

The representative for the college and university education schools in the state sent out an email from Olympia today reminding us that this is only the beginning. The deficit in the next biennium will be $5 billion dollars and the next round of cuts will be even more severe. What he meant was that this was the beginning of the attempts to deal with the current deficit. The U.W. has already lost a third of its state support over the last 3 years.

Washington's democratic governor Christine Gregoire is quoted as saying with regard to the $700 million in new budget cuts finalized this week -"I was very proud of what the legislature was able to do." Proposition 1098 which would have established a 5% income tax on those making over $200,000 was voted down by the public in November after an expensive effort to block it by those including current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and companies like Boeing, Safeco and Alaska Airlines (there is no state income tax currently), and an existing tax on soda and candy was repealed. God forbid we should take a single penny from the wealthy or develop a policy that will actually help people to be healthier.

At the same time that the state is cutting this $700 million dollars from its budget, the University of Washington is about to launch a $250 million project to renovate its U.W. football stadium that will be paid for with private donations and increased ticket prices. Do we really need the deluxe suites and club seats more than we need to maintain access to a university education for everyone who wants one and is qualified and the integrity of the universities' academic programs?

As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in his heroic speech in Congress recently-when will they have enough, do they want it all?

Some have argued that the wealthy who will benefit from the failure to pass 1098 in November and from the recent "deal" to extend the Bush federal tax cuts for the wealthy will continue to give money to improve K-12 and higher education.The problem is that wealthy individuals rather than professional educators and the elected and appointed citizen boards that are supposed to govern education in particular locations have come to play an increased role in determining the direction of educational reform both at the K-12 and post secondary level.Why should Bill Gates III and Eli Broad and other wealthy individuals get to determine the ways in which public schools and universities operate?

The teachers, administrators and governing bodies of our public schools and universities are increasingly dependent on the desires of a small number of wealthy individuals who continue to increase their own wealth while the pain and suffering of many people increases. While it is true that some of these same wealthy individuals give away substantial amounts of their money around the world, in Washington state access to nutritious food, jobs that pay a living wage, affordable high quality health care, and high quality care for preschool children among other things will become less and less available to more people as a result of these new cuts.


  1. Ken, it's great that you write this commentary blog - more people need to know what's going on in this country. It's scary to read that "this is only the beginning." Are they anything the university can do to appeal the budget cuts?

  2. Katrina, what is happening at the University of Washington is happening at public universities all over the country. In the near future there may be no such thing as a genuinely public university. It is also happening in other parts of the world such as the UK where the government will be cutting support for undergraduate education by 80% and substantially raising tuition.

  3. Thanks Ken. This is sad to see. I used to be very naive to think how public universities in the US are genuinely public comparing the ones in China. Public universities in China has not been public at all in the past couple of decades: tuition is soaring, not much service to students and faculty members, private business in every corner, every area in a university. Is the concept of public going to slowly disappear in this globe?


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