Republicans shepherded their election-year state budget through the Senate on Wednesday, after removing a politically embarrassing $200,000 appropriation to pay state patrol costs associated with a big golf tournament.
Minority Democrats tried repeatedly to add funds - well over $100 million - for a variety of their favorite programs. They failed each time. But they succeeded in stripping out funds to pay traffic control at the PGA Championship at the posh Sahalee Country Club at Redmond this summer.
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, called it “corporate welfare” for a wealthy golfing association that could easily pay the tab. “Why should the taxpayers pay for something like this?” she asked.
Gov. Gary Locke, also a Democrat, sent word that the patrol can absorb some of the costs, but that the local hosts also should help out.
Republicans bristled at the attack on a line item that had been tucked into a rewrite of the state’s two-year, $19.1 billion budget. Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Issaquah, said the money was for crowd and traffic control in the vicinity of the golf course on tournament days - not for security for the event itself.
The event, one of the four main tournaments each year, generates up to $80 million in economic activity in the host state and up to $7 million in state and local taxes, Rossi said.
He and other Republicans called it a cheap partisan shot aimed at political embarrassment but went along with Brown’s amendment. It passed on a voice vote.
But try as they might, the Democrats couldn’t add a dime to the budget. Budget Chairman Jim West, R-Spokane, and House Appropriations Chairman Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, have characterized it as fairly minor tinkering with the main budget adopted last spring.
The Republicans say they won’t boost the bottom line of $19.085 billion but would reallocate about $70 million in savings that lawmakers have identified in lower school enrollment and other areas.
The new dollars will go to fight crime, rebuild salmon runs, and enhance reading and social programs.
The budget, SB6108, leaves a reserve of $813 million and stays about $67 million below the level voters authorized under spending-limit Initiative 601.
Minority Democrats generally complimented Republicans for what’s in the new plan, but said it’s not enough. They tried to add money for class-size reduction, health coverage for more middle-income children, 2.5 percent salary increases for all state workers who lag more than 10 percent behind counterparts in the private sector, and pay boosts for home-health care workers.
They also failed to add funds for the Columbia River Gorge Commission and Skamania County, $11 million to pay the local government tab for the new law dealing with runaways, levy support for some school districts, and to hire hundreds of new school nurses.
The longest debate, reflecting a running feud between the two parties, was over the $1 million request from Locke and the Democrats to begin expanding the number of children eligible for health coverage under the state’s Basic Health Plan for the working poor.