Washington Senate budget would add money for schools


OLYMPIA — Public schools would get more money for math and science supplies and state colleges would keep tuition from going up in a proposal released by Washington Senate budget writers.

But there would be no major new expenses, no cost-of-living raises for teachers, no new taxes and no closing of tax loopholes under the supplemental budget with a net increase of $96 million to the $33.6 billion two-year spending plan approved last year.

“Last year we did the heavy lifting,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond. “This is just simply an update.”

That budget took nearly two special sessions to draft, amend and pass through both chambers with bipartisan support. This one could come to a Senate vote Thursday. “Is this a bipartisan budget? Wait for the votes and see how it comes out,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The proposal would give public schools some $38 million more for technology-related materials, supplies and operating costs. That’s in line with the state’s push for more training in the engineering and science fields, and also would give the Legislature one more thing to point to in its report to the state Supreme Court on improvements in public education.

But there would be no cost-of-living adjustments for teachers, which Gov. Jay Inslee proposed last month, nor are there a series of tax changes he wanted that would close seven tax exemptions or credits.

Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island, the second-ranking Democrat on the budget committee, said that caucus hasn’t given up on further improvements to schools but decided to “decouple education discussions from the supplemental budget.”

A few hours after the budget was announced, Senate Democrats scheduled a news conference for this morning to release a package of tax changes and education spending to meet a state Supreme Court order to improve public schools.

Hill suggested, however, that discussion of major changes to education and other state programs should wait for 2015.

The Senate budget proposal has an extra $25 million for Opportunity Scholarships that go to college students in those high-demand fields, and $5 million for State Need Grants. Eastern Washington University would get $1 million to expand enrollment in engineering programs and Central Washington University a like amount for engineering and computer science enrollments.

Washington State University would take over some of the assets of Innovate Washington at the Riverpoint campus. Innovate Washington would be eliminated as a state agency, and about $809,000 would be redirected to state accounts.

The budget also includes language continuing the current tuition freeze at state colleges and universities through the 2014-15 academic year.

Since 2008, the state has cut budgets because of declining revenues and increased demands for state services in the recession. This year, however, revenue is projected to be higher by about $60 million, and some costs are lower.

The number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is down, saving the state an estimated $88 million, as is the number of clients for Long Term Care, saving about $16 million. Other expenses are up, including about $97 million for low-income health care and $32 million for more inmates in state prisons.

The House will release a separate budget, possibly early next week. Both chambers will have to reconcile their spending plans and pass a compromise by March 13 or face a special session.

 

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