State Senate Republicans' budget coup was borne of understandable frustration with the unfilled reform promises made by Democrats. But that's no excuse for a GOP budget devoid of any concern about the long-term consequences of cutbacks.
State Senate Republicans’ astonishing coup Friday was political theater at its finest.
A fierce parliamentary battle began in the late afternoon and continued until the wee hours of the next day and was marked by “eloquence, incoherence and impotent rage,” — as the Washington State Wire put it.
With the Democrats’ majority routed, it is the Senate GOP-led budget on center stage this week. It must not be the final word, but the beginning of negotiations.
Here’s where we are: If the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal was unsustainable, the Republicans’ is unacceptable.
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This GOP budget is a much-needed lesson on responsible spending for a state swimming in red ink, but it would make harmful cuts that could hinder the recovery of both the state and individuals.
The Republican budget would eliminate needed food supports and housing assistance. Cuts in family-planning grants would hinder efforts to keep women healthy during pregnancy. Proposed eliminations of programs that help students learn to read or prevent them from dropping out of school or getting into college contradict other legislative efforts to improve educational outcomes for all kids.
Short-term thinking might make these cuts appear reasonable but they have long-term costs in lost opportunities.
Higher education takes a $36 million hit in the GOP budget, with the University of Washington and Washington State University getting hit the hardest among the six four-year schools. Community and technical colleges fare better, setting up budget-dominated tensions between the two-year and four-year systems.
Proposed limits on how schools use tuition waivers is micromanaging. Schools use the waivers for some scholarships or tuition discounts. If the universities can set their own tuition rates, certainly these schools should be able to decide who gets a tuition break.
The budget put forth by Senate Democrats was suspect. Respect is due the three Democrats for daring to part ways with their party on this issue. It shows that others share Republicans’ impatience with Democrats’ unfulfilled promises of government reform.
Further proof can be found in the growing dismay expressed by some top Democratic supporters, including prominent benefactor Nick Hanauer, over the sluggish pace of education reforms.
Democrats will argue that they’ve made progress on reforms. They will point to the new teacher evaluations as well as lab schools promised by some lawmakers to be Washington state’s version of charter schools. Democrats’ resistance to consolidating the health-insurance plans for education employees counters their rhetoric.
Government must shrink and reform. Message sent and received. But the GOP budget should not be the financial document underneath Washington’s values. The message it sends goes beyond reform and starts to hurt people.
There are good reasons to care not just about the past week’s political drama, but about what still stands to be accomplished. It wasn’t just the supplementary operating budget Republicans seized control of. They also commandeered liquor revenue and solid-waste-collection taxes and propose skipping a payment to the state pension plans.
So they have the budget and the revenue to pay for it.
Time for both parties to shape a budget that conforms with the more centrist views of the public. Yes, taxpayers want a shrewd budget with few bells and whistles. Any new investments ought to be narrowed to a carefully crafted list: education, environment, criminal justice and an adequate safety net for the most vulnerable.
No more, but certainly no less.
Democrats must get over feeling bewildered and betrayed and look for compromises. Republicans must enjoy their last smirk of schadenfreude and then agree their budget is merely a starting point.
The result will be a budget that lives not on the edges of either political side but in the center where most voters live.
Lynne K. Varner’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org