Largely along partisan lines, the state House passed its budget last night, 55-43. Two notable Democratic 'Nay' votes were Reps. Geoff Simpson (D-47) and Brendan Williams (D-22), two members of the Blue-Green Alliance, an ad hoc group of 16 progressives who had pledged to move the budget left by restoring social services, state workers' health care, and environmental programs that had been axed in the initial proposal.

Immediately after last night's  10:20 pm vote, Rep. Simpson said:
"This budget doesn't represent my values. We will continue to cause great harm to our state as we have in recent years with this budget. Last session, we cut $3.3 billion, negatively affecting the elderly and vulnerable, school children, teachers, public safety, and other essential services. This session we will cut ... more."

Simpson's and Williams' dissident votes weren't a surprise. (Rep. Williams, whose not running for reelection, had sent out an email earlier this week in advance of the negotiations saying he was a "Progressive Democrat—not a pretend Democrat.")

The story is that the rest of the liberal contingent—which had been a thorn in House Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp's (D-43) side throughout the budget negotiations—ended up supporting the budget last night.

To cover a $2.8 billion shortfall in a $30 billion-plus budget to cover current programs, the House passed $650 million in cuts and $857 million in new revenues.

The House hasn't passed the specifics of its $857 revenue package yet, but Finance Chair Rep. Ross Hunter's (D-48) proposal includes targeted taxes on things like bottled water and candy and gum, closing tax loopholes, and raising the B&O taxes by .5 percent on some professions like lawyers (although, not on lobbyists).

The budget also includes $640 million in federal money and $550 million in fund transfers.

The Blue-Green Alliance did manage to get some of its key amendments added to the House budget, for about $46 million. Some Alliance amendments that made it last night were Rep. Dave Upthegrove's (D-33) $7.8 million proposal to pay for environmental programs like the Department of Ecology's hazardous waste clean up program and Rep. Sherry Appleton's (D-23) $1.7 million restoration of the adult day health care program for about 1,600 vulnerable seniors and disabled clients.

And while Blue-Green leader Rep. Tami Green, withdrew her call for $80 million in state worker health care benefits, they did add $22 million last night—plus another $43 million from other funds—increasing monthly employer costs from $768 to $863 per employee.

We have a call in to Rep. Green.

(Funding state worker health care is a hot button issue. Conservatives argue that private sector workers are not covered on par with state workers. That's true, but it's not as dramatic a discrepancy as it's made out to be. For example, Department Labor statistics show that nationally, private sector employers cover 80 percent of the cost of health care premiums for single coverage and 70 percent for family coverage. The average cost Washington state pays for both single and family coverage for employees is 88 percent.)

Meanwhile: Rep. Mary Helen Roberts' withdrew her $30 million proposal to restore the "Working Connections" childcare program for the working poor; Rep. Williams' withdrew his $4 million amendment for HIV services; and Rep. Simpson's $5.5 million proposal to restore in-home care for seniors and the disabled did not pass.

"Over the biennial budget period, there will have been somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.3 billion in cuts to essential services like in-home care for our seniors and disabled," Simpson emailed PubliCola this morning, "and we will raise a little more than $700 million." He concluded: "The Blue Greens were able to get a lot of good things added. But in the end, the cuts are too deep for me."

The ending fund balance is now $379 million. Before last night's Blue-Green amendments, it had been at $428 million.

The Senate  has not passed its budget yet—$900 million in new revenue including an 0.3 percent sales tax increase. (The Senate is also looking at a millionaire's tax as an alternative). The House and Senate budgets will have to be reconciled. This year's legislative session is supposed to end on March 11, this Thursday. There is chatter among legislators that they may not meet the deadline, and Gov. Chris Gregoire will have to call a special session.

Here's AP reporter Curt Woodward's report on last night's House vote.
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