February 5, 2011 in City

Spending cuts sail through Senate on 38-9 vote

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – A budget plan that would cut more than a quarter billion dollars in state spending over the next five months, called an installment in solving the state’s fiscal crisis by supporters, passed the state Senate Friday morning on a bipartisan vote.

But Democratic leaders in the House, which must now vote on the plan, said Friday afternoon some cuts in programs for children and the disabled might not be able to get through that chamber. They’re countering with another version the House could see next week.

The Senate plan achieves some of its savings by cutting support of smaller classes for kindergarten through fourth grade across the state; it reduces the state’s Basic Health Care and Children’s Health Insurance Program and drops cash payments for residents on the Disability Lifeline, although it retains medical benefits for them.

Along with the quarter-billion dollars in cuts, the plan moves another $122 million from other state funds into the General Fund Operating Budget, which pays for the widest array of state programs and services.

“It’s not a solution to the crisis we’re in, it’s an installment on the way to that solution,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. “This fiscal crisis is not subsiding anytime soon.”

Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said policy discussions on the long-term future of many state programs will occur when the Legislature tackles a two-year spending plan for a budget period that begins July 1: “Today we’re just talking about how do we balance the books at the end of the year.”

The budget proposal passed on a 38-9 bipartisan vote. But it wasn’t without its critics.

Among those voting no was freshman Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who said the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

“It didn’t solve the entire problem. This budget crisis should have been solved long ago,” Baumgartner said.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, disagreed with the way it cuts early education. Instead of increasing class sizes in kindergarten through 4th grade throughout the state, it should cut back on districts that have all-day kindergarten, she said. Only about 20 percent of the districts have all-day kindergarten, she said, but increasing student counts in K-4 affects the whole state.

But her amendment to swap cuts in K-4 for cuts in all-day kindergarten failed.

The Senate version would drop the number of children on state medical insurance by cutting off families that are above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The program currently has families up to 250 percent of that level.

Dropping children off insurance is a tough sell in the House, for both parties, said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, the House majority leader.

House Democrats also want to restore cash grants to disabled residents on the Disability Lifeline, Sullivan said.

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