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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House budget proposal digs deeper into higher education

OLYMPIA – A day after the Senate, House lawmakers proposed a budget plan that slices much deeper into higher education but spares K-12 education from some major cuts. The House plan would strip $683 million from colleges, even while raising tuition at four-year schools 10 percent a year. “We are asking them to take the biggest cut” despite the schools being engines of innovation and worker retraining, said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. “They will have to do the hardest work to figure out how to get through these tough times. But I know they can do it.” The Senate plan, which would cut $513 million, is estimated to mean 2,500 fewer higher education jobs. House officials wouldn’t put a number on their proposal, saying they would leave it to the individual colleges to meet budget targets. As for K-12 schools, the House would cut $625 million, compared with the Senate’s deeper $877 million in cuts. Much of that money would come from a voter-approved measure designed to shrink class sizes by hiring more teachers. But even under the House plan, Haigh predicted, many teachers will lose their jobs. “If we can keep other funds whole,” she said, “maybe we won’t lose more than 3- or 4,000 teachers.” A top Senate budget writer, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, also estimates that 2,000 state workers will lose their jobs. “This is not a very pleasant day for any of us,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler. Lawmakers will spend the next few weeks agreeing on a final plan. State spending would still rise Both budgets total about $32.3 billion, compared with the $33.7 billion budget approved two years ago. That doesn’t include $2 billion to $3 billion more in expected federal help. And both the House and Senate budget would reduce state pension payments by hundreds of millions of dollars and use millions more in long-term construction dollars to support the operating budget. In other words, the state will still be spending significantly more in this budget than in the last one. “We now know where the Enron accountants turned up: writing this budget,” said Rep. Doug Erickson, R-Bellingham, criticizing the fact that that the federal aid wasn’t included in the budget. “Today we got the status quo,” said Erickson, indicating the House budget. “We’re going to borrow more, we’re going to spend more, and we’re going to pass the debt on to our kids.” He and other Republicans say the budget crisis was a chance for long-term spending reforms, but that majority Democrats resisted that. Over the past four years, state spending rose $8 billion. Republicans argue that the state must overhaul state spending to ease the burden on taxpayers and businesses. “It’s really hard to imagine people who are having difficulty meeting payroll in their small businesses, and yet our state employees have one of the richest health care plans that’s out there,” said Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “I find that just amazing.” House budget writers said Tuesday that they tried to preserve basic education and the state’s social safety net, as well as state-subsidized health insurance for kids. Taxpayers are likely to be asked for a tax increase to help avoid some of the cuts, said Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. But what tax and how much have yet to be worked out. Wherever possible, Haigh said, lawmakers want to set a budget amount and let school districts, state agencies and colleges figure out the best way to meet it. Many wanted that flexibility, lawmakers said. “There was trickle-down economics,” said Haigh. “Well, this is trickle-down pain.”