April 27, 1997 in City

Give And Take Produces Budget Lawmakers Ok $19 Billion Plan; Locke Gets Education Programs

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer

State lawmakers agreed to a $19 billion budget Saturday that includes an additional $129 million to get it past Gov. Gary Locke’s veto pen.

Locke vetoed chunks of the budget agreement lawmakers sent him last week. The new version calls for $19 billion to be spent over the next two years and stays $119 million below the state tax and spending lid.

GOP lawmakers met some of Locke’s demands, increasing spending for education, the Basic Health Plan and social services. But lawmakers held the line on state employee and teacher raises.

The budget bill cleared the House, 52-46. The spending plan was expected to pass the Senate late Saturday night, and Locke said he will sign it.

Locke said he was “very, very pleased” with the budget compromise struck with legislators. “There was give and take on both sides. We made great strides. We didn’t get everything we asked for, but our priority of education has been addressed.”

Locke said there was no point in calling a special session to pump even more money into the budget. “We got all we could get.”

Locke had wanted to provide a raise of 2.5 percent each year of the 1997-99 biennium. But instead legislators are providing a raise of 3 percent the first year of the biennium and no more.

It is the second raise state employees have received in two years. A 4 percent raise was granted to state employees and teachers in 1995.

“That’s 7 percent in two years. It’s a fair wage increase,” said Sen. James West, R-Spokane, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Greg Devereux, director of the Washington Federation of State Employees called the budget “an extreme disappointment. The money was there. They don’t care what happens to the state work force.”

West said GOP lawmakers would have liked to have provided more, but there wasn’t enough money. Every percentage increase in pay costs about $100 million.

Dick Thompson, director of the state Office of Financial Management and Locke’s chief negotiator on the budget, said lawmakers simply could not be moved to spend more. “We were very disappointed.”

Locke did win concessions from lawmakers on education. They added back money that had been cut for K-12 schools and so-called complex need grants, used in some school districts including Spokane to help struggling students.

The budget also includes $10 million for student learning improvement grants, used to help train teachers for education reform. Lawmakers refused to accept $16 million in federal funds for education reform, and Locke could not convince them to change their minds.

The biggest increase in spending was for the Basic Health Plan. Locke had wanted to expand enrollment the health plan by 20,000 working poor people.

Lawmakers froze the plan at its existing level in the first budget they sent Locke. This time they added $14 million, to pay for an expansion of 8,000 slots.

Another $5 million was added to reduce the hike in sponsorship fees used by community clinics to help pay the premium to add poor people to the Basic Health Plan.

The budget agreed to by lawmakers hikes the fee to $30, less than the $45 an earlier version of the budget proposed.

Another $7 million was spent to make hikes in premiums paid by the working poor for the health plan a little smaller.

Increases were not enough to win support of Democrats, who said the budget shortchanges the working poor.

They argued the budget includes nearly $400 million in tax cuts for some of the largest businesses in the state while implementing cuts in some programs that help the poor.

“I find this shameless,” said Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma.

“Let’s come forward with a budget that helps everyone in the state, not just those who are already on top.”

Rep. Eileen Cody, Seattle scolded her colleagues across the aisle, saying “We are going to give tax cuts to those who don’t really need them and we are going to do it on the back of the working poor.”

Republican John Pennington of Carrolls, House speaker pro tem, countered that the budget “meets the needs of our people, not the needs of our bureaucracies.”

, DataTimes

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