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Senate GOP budget: Cut tuition, no tax hikes

OLYMPIA — In a counter to House Democrats, Senate Republicans released a budget that cuts college tuition, sends an extra $1.2 billion to public schools and has no general tax increase.

The $38 billion spending plan has less money than the Democratic proposal for raises for teachers and state employees, less for early learning programs and more for health care programs.

Almost half of the budget would be spent on public schools, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill said. It would have the first tuition cut since the 1970s, which represents a tax cut for middle-class families, he said.

It calls for the Legislature to reject contracts negotiated between the governor's office and the state employees' unions but give each worker a $1,000 raise in each year of the two-year budget cycle.

That gives a larger percentage increase to lower-paid workers, Hill said. Teachers and other school employees would get a cost-of-living increase that was approved by Initiative 732.

It would also ask voters to agree with changes to a class-size reduction law voters passed last year for public schools in kindergarten through Grade 12. The state would spend $350 million to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through Grade 3, but delay any further reductions. Research shows that the greatest impact on smaller classes is in those lower grades, Hill said.

The budget would contain a referendum clause asking voters to agree in November.

The Republican budget also would move some $300 million in tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana into the general operating budget, but research and drug prevention programs would be paid through that budget.

Washington State University would get $2.5 million to seek accreditation for a new medical school in Spokane, and the University of Washington would get $2.5 million to operate WWAMI in Spokane. But WSU would continue to offer services and operations to UW in Spokane "under the same conditions and limitations that existed prior to the dissolution of their WWAMI partnership."

House Democrats also gave WSU the $2.5 million the school estimates it will need to gain accreditation for the new school, but gave the two universities more money to increase the number of WWAMI students in Spokane and cover the costs of services and operations that WSU received over the years before UW cancelled the partnership.

Senate budget: More for schools, less for social programs

Sen. Andy Hill describes the budget proposal with Sen. Jim Hargrove waiting nearby in the State Reception Room.

OLYMPIA — Leaders of a Senate committee released a $32.5 billion operating budget that spends more on education, less on programs for the poor and doesn't raise taxes. They acknowledged they don't know if it has the support to pass that chamber, let alone become the actual spending plan for the next two years.

It differs significantly from recommendations from Gov. Jay Inslee last week, but meets four goals Senate budget writers set at the beginning of the year, Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond said: It doesn't hurt the economy by raising taxes; increases spending on education programs ranging from pre-kindergarten through graduate school; it preserves some services for "the most vulnerable" and it was crafted by members of both parties.

The budget adds about $1.5 billion to the state's public school system, with about $1 billion of that going to basic education costs. The state is under a Supreme Court order to meet the constitutional requirement to make education its top priority.

It adds about $300 million to the state's universities, colleges, community and technical colleges, and orders a 3 percent cut in tuition.

It relies on some $303 million in federal money for fully participating in Medicaid expansion from the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It cuts money for such programs as Temporary Aid to Needy Families, childrens nutrition and aid to the disabled.

With the Senate divided 25-24 between a majority coalition made up of all 23 Republicans and two disaffected Democrats, and the remaining 24 Democrats, Hill emphasized the budget was drafted as "a true collaboration."

But the ranking Democrat, Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, said he was only sure of two votes for the budget, his and Hill's. Other Democrats may want to restore money to some social programs and look for tax increases or close tax loopholes to pay for it, he said.

"We'll have to wait to see the floor vote" to see if it has bipartisan support in the Senate.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Jay Inslee called the Senate budget proposal "deeply flawed," and said it relied on "short-term fixes and budget tricks" while cutting social services to pay for schools.

A hearing on the Senate budget proposal was scheduled for about three hours after the spending plan was released. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to release it's own budget in the coming days.

Sunday Spin: Let’s skip the folksy budget analogies

OLYMPIA – It is a rare day in the session that some legislator doesn’t offer the folksy wisdom that the state would be fine if it would just balance the budget like the folks back home.

Sometimes, those folks are mom and pop entrepreneurs on Main Street, struggling to make payroll as sales drop and the costs rise. They tighten their belts, take a smaller profit, layoff a worker or two, have a few more go to part-time, maybe buy a smaller ad in the local high school yearbook.

More often, though, the folks are a family around the kitchen table, deciding how to stretch the paycheck for food, clothes, braces or the kids’ college fund after paying the mortgage and the utility bill. They make those hard choices on what to do without, a legislator will say in a floor speech. Maybe get another year out of the pickup, carpool to work, put off that trip to Disneyland until next summer.

Such homey examples are designed to communicate the state’s budget situation to the folks back home. But they may actually do the folks back home a disservice by oversimplifying what the state budget is.

 To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Spec Sess Day 29: One budget out, another on the way

Legislative leaders announce proposed 2011-13 general operating budget Tuesday.

OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders unveiled their latest — and possibly final —  version of the 2011-13 operating budget they described as painful but sustainable. A deal on the capital budget and changes to the state's debt limit are expected later Tuesday.

The proposed budget, which totals some $32.2 billlion for state programs and salaries, has cuts for every state agency and department. It has pay cuts for state workers and expected cuts for K-12 teachers and other school employees. It cuts but does not eliminate the state's Basic Health program, revamps the Disability Lifeline to end cash grants, cuts higher education but allows the universities and colleges to make up for much of the reduction by raising tuition as much as 13 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State and Western Washington universities, 11.5 percent at Eastern Washington University and 11 percent at community colleges.

The cuts are painful, but in some areas not as bad as earlier proposals, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial budget plan would have eliminated Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. This proposal saves both, on much reduced levels.

"A budget seems like a math problem, but we all kknow it is really about people," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.

This proposal is more responsible than previous budgets because it does not count on an infusion of federal cash or borrow from other accounts to keep it out of the red, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman said. The safety net is in place, but "it's thinner," he said.

"This is the first budget that does not spend more money that we were forecast to have," Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

The proposal is written as an amendment to the bill sitting in the House of Representatives, where it has been since the start of the special session 29 days ago. It will likely come to a vote in the House later today and move to the Senate. There the vote will await the announcement of details of the state's other big spending package, the Capital Budget, and a possible agreement on plans to reduce the state's debt limit.

Negotiators reached a tentative deal on the Capital Budget at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, legislative leaders said, and will announce details Tuesday afternoon.

School districts will see a reduction in their state funding that equals a salary reduction of 1.9 percent for teachers and other certified staff, and a 3 percent reduction for administrators. The Legislature doesn't have the authority to cut those salaries, which are part of labor contracts negotiated between the districts and the individual unions. The districts will be able to reopen contracts to seek lower wages, or they could choose to make other cuts.

Those cuts are separate from the suspension of cost-of-living adjustments that voters approved by an initiative in 2000, and a "catch-up" of COLA raises that were suspended in the 2009-11 biennium. Teachers who are eligible for step increases will receive those raises.

Requirements to reduce class sizes, mandated by another 2000 initiative, are suspended, as is a program to reduce class sizes in Grades K through 4. A separate program for smaller K-3 class sizes in high poverty areas did receive money, however.

State employees would receive a 3 percent pay cut through a previously negotiated contract provision that calls for them to reduce work hours by 5.2 hours per month. Management in state agencies are ordered to cut between 7 and 10 percent.

A new system for daily and annual fees at parks, natural lands and other state properties is designed to offset a total of $68 million in total cuts to natural resource agencies such as State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife. The passes, which have already been signed into law, will cost $10 for daily use and $30 for an annual "Discover Pass."

Eligibility in the Basic Health program will be reduced to those who are eligible for Medicaid, and new admissions will be frozen, so the plan will cover about 37,000 people per month in fiscal 2012 and 33,000 in fiscal 2013.  The state will also cut payments to hospitals, health centers and rural clinics and emergency rooms being used for non-emergency conditions. It will elimnate the Adult Dental Health program and copayments for Medicare Part D copayments for some clients. It will require families enrolled in the Children's Health Program to pay higher premiums.

The Disability Lifeline program, which currently provides health care and cash grants to disabled people unable to work, is will be replaced with new programs for a savings of about $116 million. The state will continue to provide medical care through other programs, and offer vouchers for housing and essential services to eligible participants through the Department of Commerce. 


For details on cuts to the general operating budget, go inside the blog.

Special Session Day 29: Budget at 10 a.m., votes later

OLYMPIA — This is B-Day in Olympia. The rank and file members of the Legislature, those not involved in budget negotiations, are being briefed on the state's $32 billiion general operating budget at 9 a.m., and the general public gets its first look at 10 a.m.

Read fast, because a vote in the House could come later in the day. No hearings. Not necessary, say legislative leaders, we've seen it all before. This is standard operating procedure, they add.

Why the rush? After all, it took legislative leaders 133 days to settle on the right way to spend $32 billion of our money over the next two years. Well, for one thing, they're running out of time…

It's day Day 29 of the 30-Day Special Session. Ordinarily, we'd do some fun calculations with fractions. But 29 is a prime number, so there's no smaller fraction that it can be reduced to.

Percentage-wise, when they finish today (or probably tonight), 96.6 percent of the special session will be history.

Gregoire to Lege: Get a budget by week’s end

Gov. Gregoire points to a chart Monday that shows revenue for the ferry system is falling dangerously low.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the state's 2011-13 transportation budget Monday and issued a warning to the Legislature to hurry up on other spending plans for the next biennium that seem to be hostage to a disagreements between the two chambers.

Agree on a general operating budget “no later than the end of the week”, she said, or risk running out of time for the special session. If that happens, Gregoire said she’d let legislators go home and stay there until they can strike a deal on the operating budget and a list of other proposals creating a roadblock to compromises.

“Things are not moving as fast as I think they should be,” a clearly unhappy Gregoire said after signing the 2011-13 transportation bill.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.