Tuesday Jolt: Republican Budget Chair vs. "Reality"
The day's winners and losers.
Fizz made an attempt at critiquing state Sen. Andy Hill's (R-45, Redmond) bill to earmark two-thirds of all new revenue for education. Sen. Hill is the chair of the state senate ways and means committee.
But math brain Kim Justice, the policy analyst for the lefty Washington State Budget and Policy Center, did a much better job (go figure; Josh gave her lobbyist of the year way back in 2008 for her smarts.)
She's still at it.
Testifying against the legislation in front of Sen. Hill's committee meeting yesterday, Justice started out making one of the points we made in Fizz: Revenue growth for the next biennium isn't enough to even cover the status quo going forward—"much less make additional investments in education," as Justice put it.
The Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary decision puts the state on the hook for an additional $2 billion in K-12 funding for the next biennium and another $1.2 billion extra in the biennium after that—on top of the the roughly $15 billion per biennium that's needed to cover existing costs. Hill's legislation, Justice told Jolt, doesn't address the real budget problem because "he just rearranges the money without adding any."
Of course, the Republicans haven't said that Hill's two-thirds plan would fulfil the McCleary obligation. But that leads Justice to make another point, which reveals the legislation as more of a soundbite than a solution. "They haven't said that," Justice admits, "but you still have to fund McCleary."
And Justice goes on to make a more devastating point about Sen. Hill's current budgeting scheme in general (the house Democrats are guilty of this funny math as well, by the way.) Justice tells Hill that his supplemental budget falls $70 million short.
Hill takes umbrage at Justice's point. "Well, I was interested." Hill begins skeptically. "You said you thought the senate's proposal was $70 million short and yet it balanced, it met the four-year balanced budget requirement."
Cue up the math. And the Jolt: Justice points out to Hill that the balanced budget requirement puts a 4.5 percent floor on revenue growth for budgeting. That is: the budget can assume revenues based on 4.5 percent growth or actual projections, whichever is higher. Revenue growth over next four years is projected to be only about 4.3 percent, $104 million less than 4.5 percent growth in Hill's plan. Hill's budget leaves an ending balance of $35 million. So, "if you back out the additional revenue that's assumed [$104 million]," Justice tells Hill, "then you're facing a $70 million shortfall."
"Got it," Hill says. "OK."
Justice told Jolt that Hill's budget "was not based on reality."
Indeed, the actual increase for the fiscal biennium (2016 and 2017) is 4.3 percent (see page 71) and (see last page) Hill's senate budget is based on 4.5 percent growth which gives them $104 million that doesn't actually exist.
In addition to showing up Hill's two-thirds bill as pure messaging without any substance, Justice's entire testimony is worth watching because she hits another point: Prioritizing education funding can't be done in isolation. Hill's proposal forces "deep and devastating cuts to other things kids need to be good learners such as access to food, health care, and a stable home," Justice says, clearly bullet-pointing the other mainstays of the general fund that are at risk.
To complete that point about holistic budgeting responsibilities, Justice hints at the McCleary logic that's lit a fire under education funding, telling the committee the state could be in danger of "violating federal and [state] constitutional requirements." Justice notes that additional cuts—on top of the recession era's $10 billion in hits—would put the state at risk of being unable to pay for debt service, prison costs, and the state's share of Medicaid.