At last, some cards are on the table.
House Democrats on Wednesday released their proposed budget compromise, and pushed it through the Appropriations Committee after about two hours of testimony. Perfect it isn’t, but HB 1057 and associated bills are the first chance the public has had in weeks to review the work of legislators seemingly playing chicken, with the end of the fiscal year only three weeks away.
Technically, they are all criminals for violating the statutory June 1 deadline for enacting a budget. Ho-hum.
The Democrats’ revised plan provides for $33.6 billion in spending during the 2013-15 biennium, down about $800 million from their first draft. Most of the cuts are in K-12 education, which nonetheless would get more than $700 million in additional funding compared with 2011-13. Most officials have assumed it will take about $1 billion to satisfy the Washington Supreme Court that the state is meeting its constitutional obligation to make paying for education its “paramount” responsibility.
The state’s hard-pressed universities and undergraduates would also get some help.
Education at all levels would get another $256 million if legislators approve a separate measure – HB 2034 – that would eliminate seven tax exemptions, including sales tax on bottled water and two for research and development expenditures. Those last two, at least, should not be tinkered with.
Some gimmicks were eliminated, but the plan does rely on a transfer of $400 million out of a fund that helps pay for school construction.
Among its most impressive features is the projected reserve at the end of the 2015-2017 biennium: $928 million, almost four times what will be on hand June 30.
So far, criticism has been relatively muted.
Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democrat leading the coalition caucus in the Senate, huffed that the House was balancing the budget on the backs of students because its K-12 appropriation is about $150 million below the Senate’s. He did not mention the Senate move to raise the lid on the estate tax exemption to $5 million from $2 million, which will deprive the Education Trust Fund of about $500 million during the next decade.
But then, he represents Medina, home of folks like Bill Gates.
Rep. Gary Alexander said he was disappointed the plan was released publicly before it was presented in closed-door negotiations. In fact, it’s been far too long since the public had any sense where either party stood since their budgets were released months ago.
What Washington residents deserve is a look at where the Senate stands after all these months. If that Republican-controlled body does not come out with something they declined to do so again Thursday – it will look like House Democrats are negotiating with themselves.
Their plan makes significant progress toward a realistic blueprint. Where are the Republicans?
Time is short. Set aside ideology and get this done.