The Republican minority in the Washington Senate struck back Friday, passing a budget with the assistance of three defectors from the ranks of moderate “roadkill” Democrats.
It wasn’t pretty. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said GOP leaders had sandbagged her in budget talks while they peeled away the votes they needed to pass their own budget plan. Republicans claimed Democrats had iced them out of budget talks, and a coup was the only way they were going to be heard.
Monday, House and Senate Democratic leaders, along with Gov. Chris Gregoire, were reportedly trying to reformulate a budget that might overcome Republican objections. With the Legislature scheduled to go home Thursday, they do not have much time.
The main virtue of the Republican plan: It would put the brakes on efforts by the Democrats to pay for tomorrow what the state cannot afford to pay for today. Pushing $330 million in school payments into the next biennium, as proposed in the Democrats’ Senate budget, would be irresponsible. The economy may be recovering, but an upturn in revenues that would make the state whole on the delayed payment is more hope than substance.
Republicans did some pushing of their own. Their plan skips a $133 million payment into state pension plans. Delayed payments increase future obligations, potentially to $400 million. Conversely, early retirement would be limited, and new state employees would have to enroll in a hybrid pension that features a 401(k)-like program that puts on them more of the onus for retirement funding.
The long-term savings to the state could exceed $2 billion.
The GOP also cuts more than $180 million from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. No additional cuts are made to the Basic Health Plan, but other programs that help the poor or disabled meet their health care needs are.
The GOP budget does preserve funding for the state fair. Golly, that sounds important compared with preservation of some funding for Disability Lifeline payments.
Although Republicans claim they are not cutting higher education, they do extract $38 million from the campuses by, in effect, taking away non-resident tuition above budget, and 30 percent of nontuition waivers.
Several reforms are components of Senate GOP and Democratic budgets: burying Initiative 728 (potentially saving $1 billion in the next biennium), consolidation of school health insurance programs, lower contributions toward state employee health care premiums, and a constitutional amendment that would require four-year budgeting, which would help avoid the jam lawmakers find themselves in now.
The Friday uprising at least gives lawmakers and Washington residents a few days to get a better understanding of the tradeoffs that will have to be made to finish the budget. Speed has outdistanced disclosure in this short session. The roadkill three deserve some credit for slowing matters down, and allowing their brethren to reconcile numbers and feelings.