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

Senate leaders roll out competing budget plan

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.