OLYMPIA — The GOP-led Senate on Wednesday proposed a budget that puts $1 billion more into K-12 basic education and closes a large budget shortfall without increasing taxes.
“It’s going to invest heavily in education and is going to still protect the most vulnerable, and it’s going to be a budget that balances for four years — and it does it within our current means,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said in an interview before the budget was released.
The K-12 money is aimed at meeting state Supreme Court demands for additional funding.
Democratic Sens. Jim Hargrove, of Hoquiam, and Sharon Nelson, of Maury Island, worked closely with Hill to craft a budget. “I consider the process to be a bipartisan process, and we’re moving forward on the budget,” said Hargrove, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means.
Still, Hargrove and other Democrats said they had concerns about aspects of the proposal, such as cuts to housing for the poor and disabled.
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said there were some wins for his caucus.
For example, the proposal fully funds state employee contracts, and there is money for Planned Parenthood and programs for immigrants, but “this is not a bipartisan budget,” he said. “If it was, we would have put additional revenue into our education system and not have cut the poor as deeply as they cut them.”
The Senate proposal would spend roughly $33.3 billion over the next two years. That’s $1.1 billion less than a $34.4 billion spending plan released by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week.
A key difference: Inslee proposed $1.2 billion in additional tax revenue to be raised through closing tax breaks and extending existing taxes — all of which would go into education.
The Senate budget, by comparison, highlights $1.2 billion in “spending constraints and savings.”
The Senate proposal, for example, would save $127 million by moving roughly 20,000 part-time state, higher education and non-certificated K-12 employees off state-funded health care and into a new health-care exchange that will be created as part of the new national health law. Under the plan, the workers would get a pay boost to pay for the difference in premiums.
Also, the budget would take $180 million out of a Working Connections Child Care program for the working poor. Hill said that the number of people using the program was less than expected, so the budget takes the money that’s not needed.
It also assumes $131 million in savings from various government efficiencies.
Both Hill and Hargrove were vague in terms of how many votes either party’s caucus might be able to deliver for the proposal.
If the budget does clear the Senate, it’s likely to have a tough go in the House, which is controlled by Democrats.
“In addition to being unsustainable, some of their decisions seem downright cruel,” House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said of the Senate proposal.
Inslee criticized the budget as well, saying 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.”