Senate budget writers released a $33.2 billion two-year budget on Wednesday that funnels $1 billion in new money for basic education and increases funding for higher education and early learning without any new taxes.
The proposal put forth by the Senate Majority Coalition assumes $1.2 billion in savings from spending cuts, but does not include the elimination of tax breaks for specific industries or the extension of business and beer taxes — two key elements that funded education in a budget plan released by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.
It is the first budget written by the new majority coalition in the Senate, which is comprised of 23 Republicans and two Democrats. The budget will receive its first hearing today at 3:30 p.m. in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Lead budget writer Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) said he hopes to have it on the Senate floor by the end of the week.
The two Democrats who helped Hill craft the budget, Sens. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) and Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) said it was necessary to release a plan to get the negotiations started.
“You have to remember that they are in charge,” Hargrove said. “Our process has been bi-partisan up to now. Whether it’s a bi-partisan budget, we’ll have to see the floor votes.”
The plan calls for $1.5 billion for state’s public school system, with $1 billion going to meet a Supreme Court mandate to meet the constitutional requirement to make education its top priority. It also adds $300 million to the state’s colleges and universities, including a 3 percent cut in tuition.
While the plan does not call for additional taxes, it does count $303 million in savings through Medicaid expansion for low-income adults under federal health care reform and $238 million by shifting funds from the “hospital safety net” fee into the general fund.
The plan also relies on a number of savings initiatives and cuts to government programs. Here’s a look at some of the proposals:
- $65 million in savings from administrative efficiencies at government agencies using lean management principles.
- $40.9 million in savings with the elimination a program that provides cash assistance to disabled, blind, or older people who are waiting to be eligible for the Social Security Insurance program.
- $40 million is savings through a new compliance system that will collect unpaid sales and use tax
- $10 million in savings from the use of structured settlements and reduced worker compensation charges to the state
- $4 million in savings from an increase in the license fee for adult family homes
Inslee criticized the plan, calling it “deeply flawed” in a statement:
“This proposal is deeply flawed. It’s the same old game that relies on short-term fixes and budget tricks, and it results in policy choices that would take our state backward. The Senate proposal to address our basic education obligations is funded in large part through cuts to vital services for children, families and vulnerable adults — exactly what I have said we must not do. The proposal released today would cut child care subsidies for low-income families and other families working to get off welfare, and reduce long-term care services for the elderly and people with developmental disabilities. It would make deep cuts to our state prison system, would force us to close state parks and fall far short of my plan for expanding early childhood education opportunities.”
Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), who is leading the budget-writing efforts in the House, called portions of the plan “downright cruel” in his statement on the proposal:
“While it is nice that the Senate Republicans have acknowledged our responsibility to fund the McCleary decision, they have done so with a budget proposal that relies on assumptions that are unconstitutional or unsustainable. The Supreme Court has been pretty cranky about this issue, and this budget will do nothing to improve their mood. In addition to being unsustainable, some of their decisions seem downright cruel. Providing child care subsidies for parents trying to get back into the workforce was part of the deal when we “reinvented welfare” two decades ago. Cutting it now will not only force single moms back onto welfare, it will perpetuate the opportunity gap in our schools for years to come. I am also very concerned with some of the shaky assumptions made in the proposal. There are $157 million in unnamed efficiencies, $40 million in an uncollectable use tax, and $166 million in a school trust transfer that is clearly unconstitutional. We have spent the last five years making our budget more sustainable with actions like reducing our long-term pension obligations and cutting staffing at all levels. A budget built on unconstitutional actions and assumptions that are unlikely to come true moves us away from sustainability.”