A higher education efficiency bill unanimously passed by the state House on Tuesday could save each higher education institution hundreds of thousands of dollars, but overall funding concerns remain.
House Bill 2585 modifies the multiple state regulations, such as purchasing procedures and paycheck delivery, on higher education institutions.
The measures could annually save Washington State University $300,000 alone, said Chris Mulick, director of state relations for WSU.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, who co-sponsored the bill, told the House, "I think this is a great step forward, although this is a small step."
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The House made the changes in light of the proposed $160 million cut to higher education by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The House and Senate have yet to release their own 2012 supplemental operating budgets, which will include higher education funding.
Margaret Shepherd, director of state relations for the University of Washington, told the Herald the most significant efficiency provided by the bill involves purchasing procedures.
General government agencies and higher education institutions must go through a competitive bidding process before making any purchases. Part of this process involves filing paperwork, posting purchase requests online and evaluating bids.
For every type of product -- from software to construction contracts -- there are different rules concerning this process. This bill simplifies the rules.
By following one set of rules for competitive bidding, UW could save $400,000 annually, Shepherd said.
Mulick gave another example of how the bill could save money.
More than 80 percent of WSU employees receive their paychecks electronically through direct deposit. By requiring direct deposit for all employees, the university could annually save $25,000 in postage, Mulick said.
Savings through this bill will not make up the statewide cuts to higher education, but they will play a critical role for the schools, Shepherd said.
"Only 4 percent of (UW) funding comes from the state, but 100 percent of our business operations are regulated by the state," Shepherd said.
The state funds 35 percent of UW's education programs, Shepherd said.
Matt Skinner, WSU operating budget director, said 85 percent of state funding and tuition provides salaries for professors and faculty who serve students at WSU, and further cuts to the budget will directly impact those people.
Higher education funding is an investment in Washington, Mulick said. The aerospace, wine, wheat and apple industries -- just to name a few -- have benefited from research at WSU and other institutions, he said.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
w Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu.