By MONICA CORTES VIHARO
(April 18, 2017) — These days there’s a lot of disagreement in the state House of Representatives, but some things should be easy to agree on: We should not balance the budget on the backs of our students, state universities and public employees.
The Senate’s proposed budget slashes funding for critical public services and cuts public employees’ salaries and jobs all together.
As a PhD student at the University of Washington, I’m deeply concerned about the impacts of the Senate budget on other current student workers like me, and on prospective undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, and instructors whose talents we want to attract. Graduate students, Postdoctoral Scholars (Postdocs), and others maintain excellence in instruction and bring millions of dollars into the state through research, development, and innovation — not to mention the taxpayer dollars they contribute today and will in the future.
The University of Washington is an important, and growing, economic engine for the state. Its annual economic impact on the state of Washington is $12.5 billion. Five years ago, it was $9.1 billion. The UW supports 79,331 jobs in the state. Funding for UW is not the place to cut — it will only harm the students and workers there, and ultimately this important asset for our state.
House Bill 2186 is a progressive revenue package that has its priorities in line. The House budget would protect funding for vital public sector jobs and services that our schools, early childhood centers, environment, and most vulnerable residents depend upon. It would also allow the University of Washington to avoid cutting tuition waivers for academic student workers like myself, a vital incentive to attract quality researchers and teachers to graduate study at UW. It would freeze resident undergraduate tuition, while Senate Republicans would permit a tuition increase of 2.2%. College graduates are already entering the workforce with sky high debt — enough is enough.
In addition to slashing public services and jobs, the Senate budget cuts UW funding for tuition waivers by more than $5 million, tightens funding for Teacher Assistant positions, denies funding for collective bargaining agreements for UW classified staff, custodians and other union workers on campus, and increases health insurance premiums for other campus employees, including Postdocs, classified and non-classified staff, and faculty. The House revenue package would adequately invest in these employees that help make UW world-class and create positive economic impacts.
And who are the big winners under the Senate revenue package? The wealthy, of course, whom the Senate revenue package grossly under-taxes. What does that say about our priorities when we choose to give a break to those who can most afford it, and underfund vital state services, including our public universities and underserved Washingtonians?
As the state and UW confronts the potential of vicious federal cuts, House Bill 2186 moves in the right direction to end tax breaks on capital gains transactions and more fairly and effectively apply taxes on out-of-state retailers, the oil industry, international investment management companies, pharmaceutical resellers, foreclosing banks, and bottled water.
I’m a member of United Auto Workers Local 4121, which represents more than 4,500 Academic Student Workers at the University of Washington. While both the House and the Senate budgets fund the minimum wage and paid sick leave, which passed on the November 2016 ballot thanks to the action of impassioned Local 4121 members and activists throughout the state, the Senate budget calls for many troubling cuts that we must reject.
The choice is clear.
That’s why House Bill 2186 is supported by members of UAW 4121, in coalition with education, labor, immigrant rights, and reproductive rights groups as well as other organizations across the state.
It’s imperative we take action to make sure our elected representatives know we need a budget that provides adequate funding for our entire community, and one that enables the University of Washington to continue to be a desirable place to work and study and a valuable asset for the state and all Washingtonians.
Monica Cortes Viharo is a PhD student in the Drama Department at the University of Washington, and executive board member of United Auto Workers Local 4121, which represents over 4,500 Academic Student Workers at the University of Washington.
ALSO at The Stand:
Take action April 19 to fund public services — Among the dozens of “Stand Up for Washington” actions across the state on Wednesday will be one at the University of Washington in Seattle. To find an action near you, click here.
Rival state budgets demonstrate party values (April 5, 2017)
Senate Republican budget plan short-changes state employees (March 21, 2017)
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