After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and speculation, lawmakers in the state Senate this morning proposed a budget to bridge the state's $9 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.
It calls for closing the state prison on McNeil Island, doing away with hundreds of millions of dollars in cost-of-living increases for state workers, college staffers and teachers, and cutting nearly half a billion from higher education. Drug- and alcohol treatment would be cut, and 3,000 people judged unemployable -- often due to mental illness -- would be cut from a $339 monthly stipend and health care.
The plan is largely a no-new-taxes plan, although it would include a voluntary $5 annual fee per vehicle to stave off the closure of dozens of state parks. It also does away with a real-estate tax exemption for foreclosed homes sold by banks. It includes far more in tax breaks, including a $2.1 million tax break for newspapers.
Some local things: (I'm still combing through the phone-book-sized documents, so this is nowhere near a complete list)
-a 17 percent budget cut to the Eastern Washington State Histocial Society, otherwise known as the Museum of Arts and Culture.
-an 11 percent cut to the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute.
-a 17 percent but to Washington State University, including a projected 406 fewer full-time employee slots.
-an 18.5 percent cut to Eastern Washington University, including 100 fewer employees. (Note: both WSU and EWU decreases would be partially offset by a 7 percent-a-year increase in tuition.)
The $32.1 billion budget proposes:
-no state cost of living increases over the next two years for state workers, college staffers or teachers, and no additional money for home-care and child care workers.
-$485 million less for the state's colleges,
-tuition increases of 7 percent a year at four-year colleges and 5 percent at community and technical colleges,
-not paying school districts $754 million they were slated to get to reduce class sizes and train teachers,
-eliminating $582 million in elementary school staffing and "levy equalization" to help poor schools,
-cutting 120 beds for civilly committed people at state psychiatric hospitals by September, saving $29 million,
-closing the state prison on McNeil Island. Savings: $16 million.
-cutting spending on the Basic Health Plan -- subsidized coverage for the working poor -- by 42 percent,
-$107 million less in reimbursement for hospitals who care for people who cannot pay,
-cutting room for more than 3,000 expected students from the state's colleges,
-cutting 3,000 people -- plus another 3,000 who were expected to sign up -- from a state program that provides health care and $339-a-month stipends to people who cannot work. Half of the recipients are mentally ill; some are homeless. Health benefits would also be changed. Savings: $190 million.
-$38 million in cuts to payments for state-paid patients in nursing homes,
-Cutting transportation services and making other changes to adult day health programs that care for elderly or disabled people: savings: $19.5 million.
Parks would remain open
The Senate plan includes a $5 voluntary donation included in vehicle registrations, with the money going to pay for state parks. Although some people will refuse to pay, the change is expected to raise $28 million, which would allow all state parks to remain open. Otherwise, park officials say they're prepared to close dozens of parks across the state, possibly including Mt. Spokane State Park.
Deeper cuts avoided
To avoid even deeper cuts, Senate budget writers shifted some money and made other accounting changes. They saved $411 million, for example, by changing the formula for pension contributions for state employees, teachers, and some other public employees. Both the state and workers would pay less.
Budget writers also shifted $743 million that would normally be spent on construction -- into the state's operating fund.
Some spending increased
K-12 schools would get more money for basic education, which would rise from $11 billion over the past two years to $12.9 in the next two -- an increase of 16 percent. The Senate plan also includes hundreds of millions of expected federal dollars for schools.
Some other spending rose, including $110 million more for an expected 25 percent rise in the number of families on welfare over the next two years, as well as $2.5 million more for food stamps.
UPDATE: But wait, there's less.
A spokesman for the Washington Education Association says that what looks like increased basic education spending isn't the good news for schools that it seems. Rich Wood says the money is due to more students and to current budget obligations, like paying the last few months of the current school year's cost-of-living increase. Says Wood: "The 16 percent increase in basic ed is not new money or some kind of discretionary increase in spending."