Gop Budget Rubs Locke Wrong Way Governor Calls Education Funding ‘Mediocre’
Democratic Gov. Gary Locke was sharply critical Wednesday of a budget agreement expected to land on his desk by the end of the week.
The proposed 1997-99 budget is $260 million below the $19.238 billion plan Locke proposed.
“These cuts from our proposed budget are not necessary and put the hurt on working families of the state, something I very much disagree with,” Locke said.
The compromise agreement was adopted by a conference committee of lawmakers from the House and Senate on Tuesday. Now the agreement goes before the full House and Senate, where it may be adopted as soon as today.
Locke then has five days to sign the bill, veto part or all of it or let it become law without his signature.
At issue is spending on expansion of the Basic Health Plan for the working poor, plus education funding, which Locke called “mediocre.”
Some of the proposed budget cuts are particularly hurtful in Spokane, while other funding decisions are especially helpful.
The bill includes full funding for “Continuum of Care” programs in Spokane that include services for abused and neglected children; help for pregnant and parenting teens and their babies; and assistance for homeless youths at Volunteers of America’s Crosswalk program.
But the budget specifically rules out accepting $16 million in federal funding for Goals 2000, an education reform program. Spokane depends more heavily on money from the program than any other district in the state.
In Spokane School District 81, turning away Goals 2000 money eliminates about $500,000 used to hire teachers to redesign curriculums during the summer, according to Superintendent Gary Livingston.
Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, said it’s better to refuse the feds’ money than to become entangled in strings he said come attached to the dollars sooner or later.
“Once you start taking that money, it’s like the drug pusher on the school grounds with heroin saying, ‘Here, this will make you feel good.’ You get used to it and the next thing you know they are controlling you.”
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said turning away the money made no sense. “It’s our money. Why give it away to someone else?” She called concern about federal control “paranoid.”
School-to-work programs would also be cut, eliminating about $250,000 used in Spokane to help prepare kids for the workplace.
The budget also provides a skinnier pay increase for state employees, including teachers, granting a 3 percent raise the first year of the coming biennium, about half the rate of inflation.
The governor had proposed 2.5 percent increases each year. It would be the first cost-of-living raise teachers have had in four years, although some have received step increases and other salary boosts.
There’s also no money in the budget to help address the problem of underpaid part-time faculty at community and technical colleges.
But while Locke was sharply critical of the budget, some education leaders were not.
As West sat on an overstuffed leather sofa in the marbled wings of the Senate, a top lobbyist for the University of Washington walked up to him smiling warmly and shook his hand, thanking him for a good budget.
Brian L. Talbott, superintendent of Educational Service District 101, which serves Spokane and the surrounding area, called the budget “fair.”
Even if the Goals 2000 money is fenced out of the state budget, school districts may still apply directly to the federal government for money, Talbott said. “There’s more than one path to that money.”
He also was hopeful spending on salaries might be increased in further negotiations or in a future supplemental budget
West made light of the differences with Locke’s budget plan. “He is quibbling over miniscule budget dust. In terms of percentages, we are talking fractions of a percent.”
He was also unmoved by Locke’s concern over the proposal to forgo expansion of the Basic Health Plan.
West said GOP lawmakers could not accept Locke’s plan to add 20,000 slots to the Basic Health Plan because it relied on a one-time surplus to fund a permanent expansion of the program. “That’s not responsible.”
Linda Stone of the Children’s Alliance of Spokane said the expansion is badly needed in Spokane, where 16,722 people use the Basic Health Plan but another 6,098 tried to get coverage but didn’t.