The state house ways and means committee released its version of the 2011-2013 operating budget Monday, presenting a proposal that makes $4.4 billion in spending reductions, $214 million in fund transfers, saves $124 million through other revenue measures, and raises $300 million through the privatization of the state's liquor distribution system.  As a a solemn committee chair Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) walked legislators and reporters through his budget proposal, he said "I wish that the budget we are about to present to you today had more good news---it does not."

Before launching into the budget's details, Rep. Jeannie  Darneille (D-27, Tacoma) provided some context to the cuts, citing $5 billion in reductions already made over the last three years. The state currently faces a $5.2 billion shortfall over the next biennium. She described the house's proposed budget as having "the lowest level of per capita spending since 1986."

[pullquote]"I wish that the budget we are about to present to you today had more good news - it does not."[/pullquote]

While the proposal accepts the current collective bargaining agreements for state employees negotiated by Governor Christine Gregoire (which include a 12 to 15 percent increase in employee health care contributions), Hunter's proposal does makes some drastic cuts in funding for education and health care. In particular, the budget cuts voter-mandated I-728 funding for class size reductions, saving $1.2 billion. Other cuts include $482 million to institutions of higher education, $216 million from K-4 classroom reductions, and $57 million from lower state contributions to pensions for higher education employees.

The house budget does save the state's Basic Health Plan, providing a bridge to 2014 when the federal government takes over the full cost of the program, by continuing a tightening of  eligibility requirements made in the 2011 supplemental budget, saving $108 million. That's a change from Gregoire's original budget proposal, which gutted the BHP entirely. The house budget also saves the Children's Health Care Program and makes $100 million in reductions to cash grants for Disability Lifeline enrollees.

When asked why there was no section for new legislation that might bring in additional revenue, Hunter responded, "you dont see a line here for new legislation that might require a 2/3 vote because it seems foolish to include that in the budget." He said he wasn't planning on any legislation passing that might bring in new revenue.

Hunter did go in to the details on one of the few revenue raising measures in the budget—$300 million from privatizing the liquor distribution system. The $300 million, Hunter explained, would come at the front end of a contract with a private company to lease out the state's the warehousing and distribution system. Hunter said he wished he had taken a few more weeks to figure out some of the details regarding the liquor distribution aspect of the bill, suggesting that there would still be some changes to that provision in the coming weeks.

You can read the full house budget summary here.