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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Budget Cut Plan Threatens WSU Extensions, 4-H Programs

By Drew Foster
Tri-City Herald staff writer

February 24, 2009

Budget cuts at Washington State University could jeopardize 4-H programs that serve more than 1,200 children and teens in Benton and Franklin counties and close WSU Extension offices statewide, officials say.

"Basically, from what we've been told, ... county extension would not be able to continue throughout the state" if the cuts are approved by the state Legislature, said Marianne Ophardt, director of the WSU Extension office for Benton County.

Ophardt is seeking community support, with the hope that a multitude of voices will change current proposals.

A meeting is planned at 7 p.m. today at the Grange Hall in Pasco on Court Street and Road 64, with part of the discussion to focus on the future of the area's 4-H program. Ophardt said those attending will receive training in public advocacy, including which officials to contact and how to reach them.

Benton County commissioners agreed Monday to write several Mid-Columbia lawmakers, WSU Provost Warwick Bayly and the governor asking that the proposed budget cuts be reconsidered.

"I think we can continue to rally the troops and get that letter penned," Commission Chairman Max Benitz Jr. told Ophardt.

Last week, Bayly outlined two cost-cutting scenarios to the state Senate Higher Education Committee. One would cut the university's budget by 12 percent and the other by 18 percent.

The proposals were fueled by a predicted state revenue shortfall of $7.5 billion to $8.3 billion for 2009-11.

State money allotted to extension offices to pay faculty salaries would be cut under both scenarios Bayly outlined, Ophardt said. The 12 percent WSU budget reduction would cut 49 percent of state funding, while the 18 percent reduction would cut 75 percent, she said.

"By and large, that means the county extension throughout the state would probably disappear," Ophardt told Benton County commissioners.

In Benton and Franklin counties, that would mean up to seven full-time faculty positions could be lost, along with several office staff members and hundreds of volunteers.

If WSU Extension offices close, state 4-H programs would likely end as well, said Franklin County Extension office Director Lauri Sherfey.

"Essentially, if the extension offices close, in all probability 4-H would cease to exist," she said.

That would leave about 1,230 children and teens who participate in 4-H in Benton and Franklin counties without the program.

"(We'd be) taking away a quality after-school program," Sherfey said. "We'd see it impact the community."

She said area youths use 4-H to save money for college through the sale of livestock at county fairs and learn skills they can apply later in life.

Not everyone expects the proposed budget cuts to cripple WSU Extension offices.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, doesn't think the suggested cuts will be deep enough to close WSU Extension offices. He expects some budget cuts to occur, but said they should be small at first, with the hope they'll reduce the deficit so larger cuts won't be needed.

Hewitt said the expected deficit is based on how the state is spending money. If the state curtails spending, he said, the deficit should be smaller and severe cuts won't be necessary.

"What we're saying is we don't have to do all of these huge budget cuts," he said.

The governor's budget -- the only one released so far -- requests about $1.2 billion for WSU throughout the next biennium.

The state's budget is due to be final by April 26.