I've put these numbers before Slog readers before, but since I'm constantly told how non-credible I am, I thought I'd just quote a couple of University of Washington regents from a recent guest column in our local dead tree daily:
The cost of educating a student at the University of Washington is about $400 less today, in inflation adjusted dollars, than it was 20 years ago. As executives and directors of large business and philanthropic organizations in Washington state, our board members can attest that this could not have happened without a strong commitment to efficiency and cost control.
The next time anyone questions why public university tuition is rising faster than inflation, remember this: Twenty years ago, the state government paid 80 percent of the cost of a student's education and a student paid 20 percent. Today, the state pays 30 percent of the cost, and the student pays 70 percent. The state has systematically disinvested in our children's future, and we view this trend with disappointment and alarm.
All true. Except, the thing is, it's not like we've disinvested in higher education by design. It's not like any legislator ever stood up and made the case for why it's in the interest of the state and its citizens to slash support for public colleges and universities, or why middle class students should be priced out of a college education. In fact, I'd wager that there isn't a single legislator in either party who would campaign in favor of perpetual annual double-digit tuition increases.
And yet these double-digit tuition increases are the inevitable result of other policies legislators in both parties do speechify and campaign on: our absolute refusal to raise the tax revenue necessary to fund state services at a constant level. Essentially, we are systematically disinvesting in our children's future by default. Same goes with the rest of the Republican drown-government-in-a-bathtub agenda that we are gradually implementing regardless of how many Democratic legislators and governors we elect.
That of course is the genius of the "reform first" agenda. Washington's tax structure, with its over-reliance on the sales tax (a tax base that is steadily shrinking as a portion of the overall economy), is simply unsustainable. So Republicans don't have to justify defunding popular services like higher education in order to assure that they are ultimately defunded. For the longer we continue to segregate the revenue debate from the spending debate (as if they weren't two sides of the same budget), the longer we'll continue to get the Republican agenda by default.