OLYMPIA — The GOP-led Senate wants to throw an additional $1 billion into basic education and close a hefty budget shortfall primarily through spending cuts, fund transfers and government efficiencies.
Their budget proposal released Wednesday would not increase taxes, extend ones about to expire or close tax breaks. Cuts include a reduction in health-insurance costs and in money spent for some state services that help the working poor and disabled.
Republicans describe it as a reprioritizing of state spending. “We chose the priorities of higher education, K-12 and early learning over the rest of government,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Wednesday.
Gov. Jay Inslee took a much different route last week. He proposed raising $1.2 billion in additional tax revenue — to meet state Supreme Court demands for K-12 funding — by closing tax breaks and extending existing taxes.
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“I choose, and I believe we should all choose, education over tax breaks, and to make good on our constitutional and moral duty to quality schools for our children,” Inslee said when releasing his budget.
The third partner in this budget dance will be House Democrats, who are expected to release a budget next week that’s much closer to Inslee’s than the Republicans’.
The Senate plans to vote on its bill this week. Once the House moves its proposal, all three sides can try to hash out a compromise.
It’s anybody’s guess how long that will take.
Republicans last week criticized Inslee for proposing additional tax revenue. Democrats wasted no time returning the favor Wednesday.
“This proposal is deeply flawed. It’s the same old game that relies on short-term fixes and budget tricks, and it results in policy choices that would take our state backward,” Inslee said.
House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chimed in, saying “some of their decisions seem downright cruel.”
University of Washington President Michael Young also criticized the budget, saying higher-education funding fails to keep pace. “Today’s Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget proposal comes up woefully short for the UW and higher education,” he said in a statement.
But there was support for the Republicans, too.
Recover Washington, a business coalition representing the Washington Bankers Association and Washington Restaurant Association among others, said: “Our state Senate created a responsible budget that will help Washington’s fragile economic recovery by prioritizing education and not increasing taxes on small businesses.”
The Senate proposal would spend roughly $33.3 billion over the next two years. That’s $1.1 billion less than a $34.4 billion spending plan released by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week.
A key difference: Inslee proposed $1.2 billion in additional tax revenue. The Senate budget, by comparison, highlights $1.2 billion in “spending constraints and savings.”
The Senate proposal, for example, would take $180 million out of the Working Connections Child Care program for the working poor. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond said fewer people are using the program than expected, so the budget takes money that’s not needed.
It also assumes $131 million in savings from various government efficiencies, including $66 million through the use of “lean management” techniques, which refers to a program of continuously examining an organization’s workflow and processes to find and cut waste.
Inslee talked up the use of lean management during the campaign, but he did not book any savings from its use in his budget.
In addition, the Senate budget proposal would save $127 million by moving roughly 20,000 part-time state, higher education and non-certificated K-12 employees off state-funded health care and into a new health-care exchange that will be created as part of the new national health law.
Under the plan, the state would stop providing health care for state employees who work 80 to 129 hours a month. Those workers then would have the option of getting insurance through the exchange on their own. The Senate proposes giving them a wage boost to help pay the premiums.
An item in the GOP budget that’s bound to prove controversial is a proposal to save $40 million by reducing and, in some cases, eliminating cash assistance for elderly and disabled legal immigrants and certain disabled U.S. citizens, a proposal that would have a hard road in the Democratically controlled House.
Republicans portrayed the budget as a bipartisan plan.
Democratic Sens. Jim Hargrove, of Hoquiam, and Sharon Nelson, of Maury Island, did work closely with Hill, but they made a distinction between the process and the end product.
“The process had been bipartisan up to now. Whether it’s a bipartisan budget, you’ll have to wait until we see the floor votes,” Hargrove said, who noted he had concerns himself about some of the proposed cuts.
He joked “we’ve been talking about how we’re probably building a two-vote budget (just Hill and Hargrove) here because in reality, the closer we get together the further away we get from our caucuses.”
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, noted there were some wins for his caucus.
For example, the proposal fully funds state-employee contracts, and there is money for Planned Parenthood and programs for immigrants, but “this is not a bipartisan budget,” he said. “If it was, we would have put additional revenue into our education system and not have cut the poor as deeply as they cut them.”
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.