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Politics NW

State Sen. Ed Murray chastised Sen. Rodney Tom in a strongly worded letter Friday that questions Tom’s leadership as chairman of a committee that wants to shut down the state’s prepaid-college-tuition program.

Tom, who described the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program as a “Ponzi scheme” during a phone interview Friday, said it would be “fiscally irresponsible” for the state to continue to take GET investments. He defended the way he polled members for a final vote, which occurred via email on Dec. 31, and said that procedure was given the OK by the Senate’s attorney.

Murray wrote that “while it may technically be within your legal authority as the Chair of the Advisory Committee to email committee members on the final day of the calendar year and ask for their input on a proposal that was never properly vetted in a public forum, your actions certainly do not follow the spirit of transparency and open government for which the State of Washington and the State Senate are known.

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“Furthermore, the Committee’s recommendation to close the GET program far exceeds the directive given by the Legislature, which was simply to make a recommendation regarding differential tuition as it relates to the solvency of the GET program,” Murray wrote.

Tom polled committee members by email because too few of them were present at the last meeting to reach a consensus. Tom said he took the vote on Dec. 31 because one member, former state Sen. Lisa Brown, was going to begin a new job as chancellor of Washington State University-Spokane on Jan. 1, and he did not want her to have the appearance of a conflict of interest when she voted.

“Out of deference to Sen. Brown, Sen. Murray is trying to attack me?” Tom asked Friday. “That makes no sense. I was doing it for her benefit, not mine.”

Tom’s committee released a report this week recommending GET be closed to new investments after the enrollment period ends this spring. The college-savings program is currently underfunded by about $631 million; the state actuary expects the fund to fully recover in about 20 years.

The committee was formed to make a recommendation to the Legislature on whether to allow state universities to charge different tuition for different programs and to examine how that might affect the GET program.

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