February 3, 2011 in City

Bipartisan budget proposal could get vote this week

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – State Senate budget writers have what’s being described as a $254 million bipartisan budget agreement that could get a vote yet this week.

Just hours before a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing, Chairman Ed Murray released a plan to cut more than either the House or Gov. Chris Gregoire previously proposed, but still keep some pieces of the Basic Health Care, the Children’s Health Program and the Disability Lifeline.

“This is another installment in a huge budget crisis in a huge economic crisis,” Murray, D-Seattle, told reporters. “In a crisis this big, everybody gets cut.”

The plan reduces General Fund spending by some $254 million through June 30. It does that in part by reducing Basic Health Care through an enrollment freeze and new eligibility tests that include a valid Social Security number; freezing enrollment in Children’s Health and dropping eligibility to families at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less, down from 250 percent; eliminating cash payments for those in the Disability Lifeline program but retaining their medical coverage.

It also transfers some $25 million the colleges receive in tuition from students into financial aid. It makes smaller cuts to the public school budget by keeping some money for smaller classes in kindergarten through fourth grade but cuts some $23.5 million in “safety net” programs from schools.

It has a 3 percent salary reduction for nonunion state employees that would start in April, three months earlier than the governor’s plan. It also moves $6 million in profits from liquor sales into training for corrections officers in the wake of the strangulation of an officer at the Monroe facility last weekend.

The proposal was worked out with Republican Sens. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, Murray said. They must still sell it to their caucus just as he must sell it to the Democrats. He would expect the proposal to pass with support from both parties.

“If we don’t have a good count out of both caucuses, the agreement will shift,” Murray said. The full Senate could vote on it before the end of the week, and the Ways and Means Committee will be asked to vote on it Thursday.

The state’s General Fund budget was estimated in November to be about $1.1 billion out of balance through the end of June, and the state can’t run a deficit. In a special one-day session in December, the Legislature cut about $600 million, leaving another $500 million to be cut for the remaining six months of this biennium.

The latest Senate proposal cuts about $254 million, compared to $242 million in Gregoire’s proposal and $222 million in a plan approved by the Democratic majority in the House without Republican support.

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