OLYMPIA – Members of the House described a $480 million budget cut as disappointing, frustrating, low-hanging fruit and “in no way what the citizens deserve” before giving it grudging but overwhelming approval Tuesday evening.
On an 86-8 vote, they agreed to about 25 percent of the $2 billion in reductions Gov. Chris Gregoire had requested in calling the special session and signaled they’d tackle the rest in a regular session that starts Jan. 9.
The budget bill now goes to the Senate, which could vote on it today. If there are no major changes, legislators could adjourn the special session by evening.
“We’re making a down payment today, a partial one, on a daunting budget problem,” said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“A very partial down payment,” said state Rep. Gary Alexander, of Olympia, the ranking Republican on that committee. “We left the heavy lifting ahead of us.”
While Democrats sat mostly silent at their desks – one could be seen signing Christmas cards – Republicans heaped scorn on the budget.
“We are cutting in the wrong places. You need to cut the overbloated bureaucracy,” said state Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane.
“We’ve got to go home and say ‘Well, we tried, kinda,’ ” said Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum.
“This is one of those duct-tape kind of fixes,” said Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. “This is something we could’ve done in a day.”
The bill saves some money through transfers from other state funds, or other accounting maneuvers such as a nine-month delay for a payment of almost $50 million to school districts for bus maintenance. It allows the state to sell abandoned securities sooner than the current three-year waiting period.
But there are staffing cuts to state agencies from the state Library to Consumer Protection to the Health Care Authority to the Department of Licensing, and an array of programs will also be scaled back.
For this budget, only things that Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate agreed to cut remained in the bill. The more contentious items will take more time and be debated in January and February, Hunter said. “This was a bite. There are more bites to come.”