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Originally published Monday, October 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Governor's cuts exempt K-12 but hit higher ed

Gov. Christine Gregoire isn't touching K-12 education with her statewide budget cuts, but Washington's public universities are not exempt. University officials say they expect to comply with most of the governor's budget orders through hiring freezes and hold-downs on travel, but no one knows what kind of cuts the next Legislature will require.

The Associated Press

Gov. Christine Gregoire isn't touching K-12 education with her statewide budget cuts, but Washington's public universities are not exempt.

University officials say they expect to comply with most of the governor's budget orders through hiring freezes and hold-downs on travel, but no one knows what kind of cuts the next Legislature will require.

In August, the governor put controls on hiring, out-of-state travel, equipment purchases and personal-service contracts — totaling an estimated $36 million at the state's higher-education institutions through the end of the biennium on June 30.

Those controls prepared university officials for Gregoire's announcement in early October requiring 1 percent across-the-board cuts at state agencies. In some cases, the hiring freeze cut university budgets enough to meet the 1 percent goal.

University of Washington Mark Emmert is keeping students and employees informed about budget cuts via e-mails to the campus.

In a note last week, President Mark Emmert said the UW has been asked to save about $10 million from its fiscal 2009 government budget of $409 million. He said the school would find ways to make the cuts without hurting the university's educational mission.

"The past four years have been good for the university, and we have prospered in a robust economy. The outlook for the next biennium is different, and we are determined to preserve the progress we have made as we enter leaner times," Emmert wrote.

Eastern Washington University

At Eastern Washington University, "Most of (the cuts) we already absorbed," said university spokesman Dave Meany. "We've been bracing for this since last fall."

Meany said the university president implemented a "soft" hiring freeze before the governor instituted hers.

The governor's cuts total about 3 percent of the $59.3 million Eastern Washington gets from the state for fiscal year 2009, or about $1.78 million.

Eastern officials are starting to speculate about what cuts they may face in the next biennium. Meany said they expect as much as a 5 percent cut in the annual budget, but have not been given any firm targets.

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They haven't decided how cuts of as much as $4 million would be made — in staff, programs or expenses.

"Everything's on the table," Meany said.

The university president has kept the campus up to date on the impacts of the economic downturn, Meany said.

"There's no way of sugarcoating it," he said, adding, however, that in whatever cutbacks the university does make the process will emphasize that students and their success come first.

The Evergreen State College

The Evergreen State College expects to cut about $750,000 from its state allocation of $25 million, but most of its cuts have already been made by leaving vacancies unfilled and freezing out-of-state travel, according to college spokesman Jason Wettstein.

Evergreen officials expect the cuts will continue next year.

"All one has to do is look at the financial landscape right now," Wettstein said.

He acknowledged that Evergreen officials are nervous about the economy, just like every other American, but "in general, folks are trying to take this in stride as we continue to learn more."

Washington State University

Washington State University is working to cut $6 million from its state allocation of $254 million, on the governor's orders.

WSU prepared for cutbacks last spring when President Elson Floyd told staff to trim hiring and other expenses in case of an economic downturn.

Western Washington University

Western Washington University was told to cut $2 million from its budget — most of which was already cut after the August directive to the state's colleges and universities to reduce spending. The university receives $74.5 million from the state.

Western President Bruce Shepard said the university will meet its obligation through spending cuts — in the areas of hiring, equipment, travel and consulting contracts — and by pulling some money from reserves.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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