January 24, 2011 in City, News

House budget cuts hit education, social services

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA — On a largely party-line vote Monday, the state House sent the Senate some $348 million in cuts and other changes to the state’s general fund budget over the next five months.

Democrats said their latest supplemental budget, which passed 55-43, strikes a balance between cutting education and cutting social programs. Among its biggest changes are an end to state funding for smaller classes in kindergarten through 4th grade, and a scaling back and eventual elimination of state support of the Basic Health plan.

“It’s hard and it’s painful,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said of the budget cuts. “People are losing their health coverage, their safety net.”

But education cuts in the Democratic proposal go too far in trying to save some social service programs, Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, argued: “As we look at issues of poverty, we know education is the great equalizer.”

And cuts to K-4 education are unfair and retroactive because the schools already have those teachers and programs in place, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said. “Where are they going to get the money?”

The Democratic proposal drew sharp criticism from some usual allies. The Washington Education Association said it will lead to overcrowded classrooms and eliminate 2,000 teaching jobs by next year. A liberal coalition that calls itself Our Economic Future said the Legislature should be eliminating tax breaks for businesses rather than approving an “all cuts” budget.

The GOP alternative, which Republicans said did a better job of fulfilling the state’s constitutional mandate of paying for basic education, failed on a 41-57 vote. It spared K-4 enhancements but cut the state’s Disability Lifeline, which provides money for disabled residents unable to work.

That alternative “pits funding for education against funding for social services” when the two are really intertwined, Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said.

The budget votes were the first floor votes in the House since the opening day when largely symbolic votes elected leadership and set rules. Getting a budget out of one chamber by the start of the session’s third week was unusual, members of both parties said.

The two parties did agree on one point: They voted unanimously to strip out a provision that would allow the state Transportation Commission to raise ferry rates. That section gave the bill too many subjects, Hunter said; the House can come back to the issue later.

The House spending plan goes to the Senate, where it is scheduled for a committee hearing today.


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