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McKenna: Put money back into higher education

Friday - 2/17/2012, 8:51pm  ET

By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said Friday if he's elected governor he would work to restore state dollars for higher education, with a goal of having in-state students pay half the cost of their education at our universities and the state pick up the rest of the cost.

When McKenna was a student at the University of Washington, the state covered two-thirds of the full cost of an in-state university education. Now the numbers have flipped and tuition and fees cover close to 70 percent.

McKenna would pay for the increases in the higher education budget by prioritizing future state income _ after the recession _ for education and by pushing for efficiencies in state government.

After his speech, he said if he got to write this year's state budget, he would not invest any new money in higher education and would put any new dollars from the current biennium into covering the budget shortfall and building up reserves.

Washington Democrats say McKenna is overpromising, especially in light of the current state budget deficit.

"Throughout his run for governor, Rob McKenna has proposed billions in new education spending without telling voters how he would pay for it," said Reesa Kossoff, spokeswoman for Washington State Democrats. "We can't afford a leader who claims to be for fiscal austerity, but makes campaign promises that don't add up to reality."

At a campaign event at his alma mater on Friday afternoon, McKenna said his other priority would be to give more Washington young people a chance to go to college and make sure the state graduate more college students.

He said Washington lack of commitment to higher education doesn't bode well for the economy.

"Among the United States, Washington has one of the highest percentages of jobs that require post-secondary education, but our attainment rates for bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees are among the lowest in the nation," he said.

He pointed out that the state committed more than 16 percent of the general fund for higher education 20 years ago and now just over 8 percent goes to the colleges and universities.

Some of the biggest cuts have happened over the past few years. The Legislature made up for some of those cuts by allowing higher and higher tuition. McKenna said the state has gone too far in that direction.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, said the congressman would offer a detailed education plan in March, but he has already made higher education a topic of several speeches.

Inslee is interested in boosting STEM or science, technology, engineering and math degree production to meet workforce needs. He wants to see more apprenticeship and job-related two-year college programs.

Smith said he would reduce ineffective tax loopholes and curb health care costs to increase money for education and get people back to work growing the economy and state revenues.

The student lobbyist for the University of Washington student government said Inslee hasn't given him enough specifics about his education plans.

He said he liked McKenna's ideas for prioritizing higher education spending in the state budget.

"The onus is on Congressman Inslee to come out with some education plans," said Andrew Lewis, director of the Associated Students of the University of Washington office of government relations. "If someone's voting solely on education, Rob McKenna seems to be the man."

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Donna Blankinship can be reached at http://twitter.com/dgblankinship

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Online:

McKenna's higher education plan: http://is.gd/tXwYsb

Inslee's education plan: http://is.gd/oEvDw8


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)