BY FRANCIS A. ADEWALE
The Washington State Bar Association’s FY 24 budget retreat is now history. The event, which took place on March 3 in Olympia, had the full complement of governors in attendance, all in person but for two who were traveling and participated via Zoom. The goal of the retreat, as I stated in my last column, was to provide guidance to WSBA staff who are tasked with preparing key areas of the FY 24 budget and planning for future organizational needs.
The majority of governors in attendance expressed that the exercise could be challenging at times; ultimately, however, most found it rewarding as well. The retreat kicked off with an acknowledgement of the fact that nearly 48 percent of the WSBA budget goes toward Supreme Court-mandated programs and services. These services enable the Bar to carry out its regulatory roles and to function as a champion of justice in Washington state.
Questions that came up during the engaging and stimulating intellectual debates on WSBA budgets and futures priorities included what amounts (if any) should be allocated to License Fee Stability, Special Projects/Innovation, and Facilities reserve funds? The Board discussed the organization’s needs for FY 24 and the varying priorities for each of the reserve funds. While the Board considers allocation of funds to these reserves a significant priority, the consensus was that the Board wants to have a better idea of spending for the FY 24 budget and future needs before making decisions about reserves.
A top priority identified by a majority of the Board is ensuring that the WSBA has sufficient funds to support its facilities needs; immediately following priorities include license fee stability, and additional funding to programs and services for members. The Board confirmed that the five goals set out in its January meeting remain top priorities. The Board also discussed possible additional budget items for FY 24, including potential recommendations from a variety of councils, committees, and task forces such as the Long-Range Strategic Planning Council and the Small Town And Rural Committee.
Perhaps the most consequential issue discussed at the retreat was the Board’s intent for license fees through 2026. This issue generated spirited debate. The general feedback gathered from the discussion is that the Board is not willing to make such a fundamental decision until the fiscal impact and needs for future WSBA facilities are determined.
In the end, the exercise enabled WSBA staff to identify what the Board of Governors considers to be top priorities, which provides them with guidance on how to move forward with preparing the FY 24 budget.
LEARN MORE: For a summary of the WSBA’s financials for the first quarter of FY 2023 (Oct.–Dec. 2022), see page 712 of the materials from the Board of Governors March meeting at www.wsba.org/about-wsba/who-we-are/board-of-governors/board-meeting-minutes.
As promised last month, I want to provide answers to your questions and comments on past Treasurer’s Reports:
Q. Why is the WSBA’s budgetary cycle not in alignment with the end of license fees collection?
A. The membership/license fee year follows the calendar year (January-December), while the WSBA budget follows a fiscal year (October-September); that is consistent with the Board of Governors year.
Q. Who appoints members of the Budget & Audit Committee?
A. The WSBA president, in consultation with the Board of Governors.
Q. Why did the Board set goals in January 2023 when a new set of governors will assume office in September 2023?
A. This is the first time in recent memory that the Board has set goals, and efforts are underway to align future goal-setting with changes in administration.
Q. When will the Board make a decision on 2026 license fees?
A. The Board is scheduled to make a recommendation for the 2025 license fees at its September 2023 meeting. While the Board can choose to also set the 2026 fees at that time, it is not required. A recommendation for 2026 fees would be needed in September of 2024.