House Republicans Monday unveiled a $17.3 billion state budget that slashes more than $600 million from the plan submitted by Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry.
It permits tax cuts of about $738 million, mostly for businesses, while leaving a reserve of $310 million.
The GOP budget also reduces the number of state government workers more than 1,000 from the current level. It holds salary increases to $100 a month for most state workers and teachers and requires employees to pay $32 a month toward their health insurance.
House Majority Leader Dale Foreman, R-Wenatchee, said the Republican budget is “the ultimate political statement” about the GOP desire to downsize state government. It dovetails with the “Contract With Washington” and other promises made by Republicans in the last campaign, he said.
“This is a taxpayers’ budget, not a tax spenders’ budget,” Foreman told a news conference in the jammed appropriations hearing room. “We are keeping in mind a basic principle which, unfortunately, our predecessors forgot or ignored - that is the fact that government doesn’t spend even one nickel that it didn’t first take from someone else … the person who earned it.”
There were immediate barbs from Lowry, Democrats in both houses, employee unions, social-service providers and others. They called the cuts cruel and potentially counterproductive. The governor said cuts to the environment and education could make Washington less attractive to new businesses.
The GOP budget treats higher education well, avoiding a 2.5 percent cutback that the Legislature and Lowry had told colleges to expect. It authorizes 5,000 new enrollment slots.
Faring less well are education and social services. About $268 million is cut in various education programs that supplement basic education grants - school reform efforts and “magnet” desegregation schools, for instance. Welfare grants are frozen and the single, unemployable adults on the General Assistance Unemployable welfare program would be limited to one year on the rolls.
Foster homes, group homes, chore service workers and other private caregivers are held to a 1 percent annual rate increase. Lowry had requested cost-of-living increases for these workers and for welfare recipients at an inflation rate of about 3 percent a year.
The budget also presumes savings of millions by contracting out some services to the private sector - operation of the prison at Coyote Ridge near the Tri-Cities, for instance. An estimated 572 state jobs would be cut through various privatization efforts.
In all, the budget would trim the payroll by 3,739 and adds back 3,069 in prisons, social and health caseworkers and others. Including the savings from contracting out, the budget would reduce the overall payroll by a net of 1,242 positions.
While the proposal cuts the state workforce, it does provide modest salary increases.
A flat rate increase of $100 a month is provided on Jan. 1, 1966, for all state and higher education classified and exempt employees.
Department of Corrections correctional officers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains would receive a 4 percent increase next Jan. 1 and a 3 percent increase Jan. 1, 1997.
Community and technical college faculty would receive the same increase as prison employees.
Public school teachers would receive a flat rate salary increase of $100 a month beginning next September.
The Republican budget drew opposition from Lowry and Democrats in both houses, particularly socialservice and education cuts.
“A lot of burden is being put on our communities” with some of the welfare cutbacks, the governor said. “Unstable people on the street and children without the greater educational opportunities they deserve is a greater cost than the $20 a year” taxpayers would stand to gain in a GOP property-tax break financed with part of the savings, he said. The actual figure is $38 a year.
Senate Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Puyallup, said his caucus won’t be party to carving hundreds of millions of dollars out of the budget for tax breaks for business, while harming education and programs for the poor, the elderly and the infirm.