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Gregoire says she wants to see college tuition actually cut – eventually

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm with No Comments »
December 4, 2012 4:57 pm

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a few misgivings about what state policy makers had to do as they worked through the Great Recession over the past four years, and tuition policy is one apparent regret. The two-term governor told The Olympian’s editorial board Tuesday that she would like to see tuition reduced in the future, reversing what has been a galloping growth in students’ share of costs for higher education – now hitting 70 percent of the cost of education at four-year universities.

That is double what tuition’s share was in 2000.

Gregoire, a Democrat, did not specify how low she wants tuition to drop, and her top spokesman Cory Curtis later said there was nothing specific in the works in terms of a proposal for her successor, Gov.-elect Jay Inslee. “I think it’s still a question, coming out of the recession, what can the budget handle. This may not be the time to handle that,” Curtis said.

The left-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center argued in one recent policy brief that the state share of four-year education costs has fallen to 35 percent, but should be more than 50 percent. The center also warned that cuts to higher education were dimming the state’s economic prospects.

Gregoire was invited by The Olympian’s publisher George LeMasurier to talk about her accomplishments and disappointments, and plans for the future. I attended the session as a reporter [the board politely evicts me before discussing positions it intends to take], and the questions for Gregoire, a 40-year public servant, were wide-ranging.

One of her bigger disappointments as governor was not doing more to improve Puget Sound’s water quality, and she said the recession and state’s response to lean times distracted her a bit.

By contrast, her favorite legislative triumph was passage of a gay marriage bill this year.

She said her fondest memory of being in office was seeing the cheers erupt at a Referendum 74 reception on election night when voters upheld the same-sex marriage law, which takes effect Thursday.

Gregoire said she singled out that memory “because I have so struggled with this issue and I looked out at that crowd that was just screaming. It was standing-room only. It was just huge. And I thought to myself, how as a nation could we have denied equality? How could we have done that? And I felt bad that it took me so long to get myself to the right decision …But to see what it meant to those folks. It was amazing. I won’t forget that picture in my head.’’

She also said she remains a Catholic and respects that her church has a different position.

On other topics, Gregoire declined to say much about a tax package she is developing for K-12 schools and higher education. She  said details of the tax plan will not be made public until Dec. 18. That is also when she is expected to lay out her final two-year budget for 2013-15.

On marijuana legalization, Gregoire said she intends to move ahead on implementing the new law, which takes effect on Thursday but won’t lead to actual state-run sales for at least a year.  But the governor, who is a former three-term attorney general, said she still lacks word from the federal government whether it will let the state proceed with terms of Initiative 502, which legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana and sets up state-backed sales.

“I’m asking the fundamental question – are you going to enjoin us?” Gregoire said, adding that her job is to put the law in place “unless and until they stop us.’’

Still expecting a reply, Gregoire said she has a call in to a deputy at the Department of Justice saying, basically: “time’s up.’’ She said she also is waiting on the Drug Enforcement Agency to act on her petition to reclassify marijuana for medicinal uses, which Washington, Oregon and other states’ also have legalized.

As she nears the end of her term next month, it was clear Gregoire is busy as she – in theory – tries to wind down her role. She said she’s been busy going from agency to agency to meet with staffers and thank them for their service, and her husband, Mike Gregoire, has asked her why things seem to be speeding up near the end, not slowing.

The result, she said, is she’s had no time to think about whether she would even want a job in the Obama administration (her top staffers say they are unaware of any specific contact about jobs from Obama’s team). Gregoire said has heard her name mentioned as being on a short list of names for five agency positions – including U.S. trade representative, attorney general (if the AG leaves), ambassador to Canada or even secretary of the Commerce or Interior departments – but she has no idea what she’ll do.

“If the president of the United States calls you to service, what are you going to say? ‘No, I want to spend more time on my hobbies?’ I don’t know what you say to him,’’ Gregoire said. “But no, I don’t know the answer to the question. And I haven’t really spent the time to think about it.”

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