UW wants to revoke freeze on salaries

University plans to ask Legislature for assistance

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Saying it cannot keep salaries frozen any longer, the University of Washington plans to ask the Legislature to lift a pay freeze on university employees and to help pick up some of the tab on an increase -- as much as $75 million over two years.

Although some legislators are sympathetic, it's unclear whether the state could afford such a boost, or whether it would be willing to exempt universities. Washington is already anticipating a shortfall of at least $1 billion for the 2013-15 biennium.

The university made "an urgent request for salary flexibility this biennium" in a letter it sent to the Office of Financial Management earlier this year, as part of its biennial operating-budget request. The UW's Board of Regents was to discuss the salary request at a board meeting Thursday.

The letter is not a formal request for state support, and the compensation scenario could change. In it, the university outlined two scenarios: One would give consecutive 2 percent raises in 2013 and 2014, and the other would give consecutive 5 percent raises over the same period. The 2 percent raise would cost $31 million, the 5 percent raise nearly $75 million.

The raises would not be across-the-board, however, and would likely be distributed based on merit, performance and other factors.

Weighing priorities

President Michael Young said he believes the UW is the only major research university in the country that has not given raises for four years in a row.

"The Legislature has to, at a minimum, lift the freeze," said UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is reviewing the request. In an email, Jason Kelly, her acting deputy communications director, noted the anticipated $1 billion shortfall, saying it does not include "additional funding required by the court for a larger investment in K-12."

"The governor will have to weigh all the competing priorities before she presents her budget," he wrote.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said he's sympathetic to the university and doesn't want it to lose quality employees. At the same time, there's a "reality constraint -- I don't know if you've noticed, but we don't have any money."

The Legislature in 2013 must address a state Supreme Court ruling that Washington isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately pay for basic K-12 education. That could cost the state as much as $2 billion more over the biennium, Hunter said.

Cauce said she believes the school is falling behind other large research universities, and the UW has lost some professors to other schools. "That ends up costing us a lot more than if we were giving raises," she said.

Washington's two other major universities are also addressing the salary freeze.