February 18, 2011 in City

Senate, House leaders OK cutting $242 million by June 30; full Senate to vote today

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – A budget agreement that cuts an estimated $242 million in projected state spending between now and June 30 but preserves some health and welfare programs targeted for elimination by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is scheduled for a vote in the Senate this morning.

The spending plan, one of a series of “supplemental budgets” the state has needed because of falling revenues and rising demand for services, got the approval of Senate Democrats and Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday morning in a special meeting.

House Republicans were absent and state Rep. Gary Alexander, of Olympia, lead Republican budget writer in that chamber, said previously the plan has things they wouldn’t agree to, such as a $25.4 million cut in state money for smaller classes in grades K through 4. Because the schools are already in session and the teachers are in those classes, that’s a retroactive cut, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the latest spending plan cuts more from state colleges and universities than Gregoire proposed, while keeping more in health care and social services.

“The approach that we tried to take was not eliminate (those programs) … but reform and reduce the cost,” she said.

It calls for wage reductions of 3 percent to 5 percent starting in April for non-unionized state workers and managers; because of contracts, pay cuts to union workers start in July.

Brown said she didn’t think the earlier wage cuts for some workers is unfair: “We can’t violate collective bargaining agreements.”

A four-page breakdown explains the differences with previous budget plans by the governor, the House and the Senate. Here are some highlights:

• Public schools face cuts of $58.6 million, down from the $72.5 million proposed by Gregoire. Along with retroactive cuts to K-4 class sizes, it also cuts $24.7 million from safety net programs, but it leaves some $18 million in the budget for levy equalization programs for smaller and poorer school districts, which the governor proposed cutting.

• State universities and colleges would get a $26 million cut, the largest in a plan to shift responsibility for student financial aid. The governor proposed reducing higher-education funding by less than $1 million.

• Health care would get a $47 million cut. The Basic Health Plan and Children’s Health Insurance Program would survive but with new, lower eligibility levels. The Disability Lifeline continues, but with lower cash grants and housing vouchers. All state funding for Part D Medicare co-payments is eliminated.

• Long-term care, developmental disability and mental health programs would be cut $70.5 million, including a $19 million cut in payments for personal care and a $12.6 million cut in payments that cover services not covered by Medicaid

• Other human services face cuts totaling $43.5 million on a wide range of programs ranging from food assistance to alcohol and drug addiction treatment to refugee employment aid.

Combined with some $125 million in transfers into the general fund from other accounts, the plan would erase $367.4 million in projected red ink. But the projected shortfall is about $600 million, so another proposal, which could shift some payments due at the end of June to the new biennium that begins July 1, will be necessary at some point.


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