The state Senate is tied in knots over transportation funding but is finding less controversy over the state budget, typically the toughest issue of any legislative session.
A fairly simple rewrite will being ushered through the Ways and Means Committee today, and GOP leaders expect a final Senate vote on Wednesday.
The panel heard more than 60 ideas for expanding the spending plan by millions of dollars, but Chairman Jim West, R-Spokane, said if anything is added, cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
A case in point was provided by his own caucus member, Sen. Ray Schow, R-Federal Way, who succeeded in adding $2.5 million to the state Fair Fund to offset losses due to his legislation to help the horse racing industry, particularly Emerald Downs.
That amendment, approved over West’s objections, breeched the chairman’s $19.085 billion bottom line. If the appropriation manages to clear the Legislature, some other program will have to be cut, West said, teasing minority Democrats that their pet projects will be first on the hit list. They helped Schow’s amendment pass.
Democratic Gov. Gary Locke has said he’ll veto any horse racing bill that dips further into the state treasury.
West and his House counterpart, Appropriations Chairman Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, decided before the session began that they would agree to reallocate about $70 million in savings that lawmakers have identified, but they would not boost the bottom line.
Locke has asked for a net increase of about $25 million. Both Locke and the Legislature are well below the spending limit authorized by the voters in Initiative 601.
The Senate Republicans’ plan would use savings from lower-than-expected school enrollment, additional federal aid and other sources to add millions to fight crime, rebuild salmon runs and improve schools and social programs.
The proposal won kudos from a number of lobbyists, along with dozens of requests for additional money, including:
Child health. The most frequent suggestion was to approve Locke’s request to expand the health coverage program for about 10,000 more children. A $1.5 million appropriation would let the state “reserve” about $47 million in federal aid, but the state eventually would have to pay about $23 million in matching funds.
Pay raises. The Washington Education Association, Washington Federation of State Employees and the Washington Public Employees Association all decried the lack of a pay raise for teachers, faculty and state workers. Employees got a 3 percent raise last year.
Rural economy. State trade Director Tim Douglas and others urged lawmakers to do more for rural economic development.
Social work. Lyle Quasim, secretary of social and health services, asked for more dollars for mental health programs, programs for the developmentally disabled, and the juvenile justice system. Other lobbyists asked for money for sexual assault programs, migrant housing, projects for the homeless, home and community care for the elderly, and other programs.
Schools. State school chief Terry Bergeson suggested funds for Locke’s plan to train thousands of volunteer reading tutors. The WEA asked lawmakers to reduce class sizes in fourth grade.
Columbia Gorge. The gorge commission and Skamania County commissioners asked restoration of bout $245,000 to help with management of the national scenic area.
Higher education. Lee Huntsman, provost at the University of Washington, asked lawmakers to begin a modest recruitment effort for faculty in high-competition, emerging areas. The effort could attract a “cluster” of faculty members and junior assistants in such fields as digital media and computer graphics, he said.
Natural resources. Lobbyists asked for more money for clean water programs, mineral land planning, dairy inspections and salmon restoration.
West and the committee let most of the requests sail by, although at one point the chairman complained that lawmakers are not given credit for already funding one of the country’s best programs for children’s health care.
“We’re doing the best we can,” he said.
House Republicans are expected to unveil their proposal next week, but West said he doesn’t foresee big differences.