OLYMPIA – With the bare minimum votes needed and debate over taxes yet to come, Senate Democrats passed a general fund budget Saturday designed to close the state’s $2.8 billion budget gap.
Even without a firm decision on which taxes to add or alter to raise more than $900 million in extra revenue, the combination of programs cut, reserves tapped and federal funds gave almost everyone in the chamber something to dislike.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, called it an ugly budget for an ugly time. And as the chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, it’s her budget.
Senate Republicans swung between complaints that the proposal doesn’t cut enough in tough economic times, and cut programs that do valuable work that they support.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who is one of the staunchest opponents of any tax increase and among the most vociferous against Democrats’ decision to suspend the super-majorities needed to enact such hikes – said the proposal was wrong to cut the Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton for children and adults with autism, whom he said were among the most vulnerable in society.
“Some of these cuts in this budget are just too severe and too painful to people in the community,” Benton said.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, called the more than $800 million in budget cuts “token savings”. The initial proposal didn’t cut enough, and money for individual members’ projects got added back during committee hearings at the rate of “a million here, a million there.”
“We are fiddling while Rome burns,” he complained.
No, said Senate Majority Leader, Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: “On the contrary, senator, we are passing a budget. We are moving the process forward.”
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Benton is right that the cuts are deep, and others are right that the
taxes needed to support the proposal are higher than recent years, Brown
said. It’s a difficult budget, but it’s responsive to the needs of the
public, she said.
Spending less than you wanted is not a reduction, said Sen. Cheryl
Pflug, R-Maple Valley. Those who think the cuts aren’t real should tell
that to children bumped off Basic Health, college students who lose
financial aid and state workers who will lose their jobs, said Sen. Ed
In the end, the budget only passed because Democratic Sens. Chris Marr
of Spokane and Claudia Kauffman of Kent switched from no to yes to get
to the constitutionally required 25 votes. Marr said later he switched
to yes “in the interests of moving ahead” but still has serious concerns
that the budget cuts aren’t enough and proposed tax increases are too
To come up with some $918 million in new tax revenue, Senate Democrats
have proposed a three-tenths of a cent increase in the sales tax and
elimination of some tax preferences or “loopholes”, including an
elimination for the value of a vehicle traded in when a new car, truck
or boat is purchased.
Although Democrats have 31 seats in the Senate, they don’t yet have 25
votes for a tax plan, Marr said: “Now we begin the discussions in
earnest around loopholes and tax proposals.”
The Senate budget also gets sent to the House of Representatives, which
has yet to announce how it would raise some $856 million in taxes to
save programs it doesn’t want to cut.
“This puts pressure on the House. We’re accepting that we have to lead,”
Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgeview, the top Republican on the Ways and Means
Committee, said the problems Democrats had getting enough votes to pass
the budget suggest two things. One is the problem could be even greater
passing tax increases. The other: “There’s an election in
November.”We’re accepting that we have to lead.”