As expected, Republican leaders, along with the three Democrats who helped pass the original GOP budget out of the state senate in a dramatic power play at the end of the regular session earlier this month, unveiled an updated proposal today, on the fourth day of the special session when, as GOP budget chief Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield) said, no talks between the budget writers had taken place. "We've kickstarted this thing. I don't know how long the public and the press would expect us to sit here and not start making ground."
The big news: The budget takes back the $73 million in cuts to education that Republicans originally proposed and adds a charter schools amendment, authorizing 10 charters in chronically underperforming school districts.
Zarelli said that while there were no direct negotiations with the house Democrats, who passed the other budget that's in play (which actually increased education funding from the get go when it passed earlier this month), they came up with their "compromise" budget by "listening, by osmosis if you will." What they heard, he said, was that they needed to fund education and child care. "That was made very clear."
Zarelli told reporters this morning that his proposal "totally bought back any reductions in education and bought back child care." Whereas his initial proposal cut $43 million from K-12 and $30 million from higher ed, the new proposal adds $9 million to K-12 and $277,000 to higher ed. The initial proposal cut $202 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which funds child care for poor families. Zarelli still cuts $155 million from TANF (the house Democrats cut $108 million), but Zarelli restores more than $7 million that it initially cut from children's welfare and caseload funding.
The budget does not buy back the Disability Lifeline for people's whose severe disabilities prevent them from working, cutting $40 million. The Democrats do fund the Disability Lifeline.
The budget comes with many of the macro reforms that the Republicans (and some Democrats) have been pushing all session: 1) a four-year balanced budget amendment; 2) a constitutional debt limit; 3) repeal of the long-unfunded smaller class size and teacher pay voter mandates that remain on the books; and 4) taking over K-12 employee health care plans from the local level.
The Democrats support the debt limit—because it's coupled with a $1.2 billion jobs bond, support repealing the unfunded mandates, and support the K-12 employee health plan state takeover; and on the senate side, anyway, they already passed the balanced budget amendment 36-12 with plenty of Democrats.
However, it went nowhere in the Democratic house. Meanwhile, Democratic budget leader Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Seattle) says the balanced budget amendment, "sound goods, but is bad public policy because it locks you in even though we've got a fluid economy—and ends up costing you money."
Additionally, the new plan proposes a "limited" charter schools bill and keeps the GOP's controversial pension reform plan, which delays a $130 million payment into the state pension system, on the table. Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked the senate Republicans to let go of that demand in exchange for making the Democrats let go of delaying a $330 million payment to local school districts—a "gimmick" the Republicans complain leaves a hole in the next budget.
Asked to explain the difference between the competing delays—"why is one [delay] good and why is one bad?" as TV reporter Essex Porter put it—Sen. Zarelli said that the pension reform worked out to a net savings of $1.9 billion over 25 years. The school payment delay, Zarelli said (in perhaps the quote of the year), was "either permanently go[ing] to a 13 month approach for paying 12 months worth of bills or do it once and figure out next year how you come up with $350 million to fill the hole to spend the money you didn't really have to buy the things you really wanted last year and then figure out how to pay for it tomorrow."
He criticized the house Democrats for "sending over a budget that says, 'we want everything,'" adding: "which is likely to have the next Legislature facing a $2.1 billion-dollar budget gap right away next year.”
The senate Democrats, who had their no-cuts-to-education budget tossed out in the Republican coup, released a joint-statement from Democratic leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) and budget chief Sen. Murray—which notes another slight in their opinion: Zarelli's $70 hit to the capital budget jobs bill.
Starting out diplomatically, though with a bit of backhanded praise, they begin:
Senate Democrats drew a line in the sand – we protected education. The House agreed with us, and today we see that the Senate Republicans have come to our position. It’s an important step in the right direction. It signals a willingness to move toward a solution to Washington’s budget challenges.
We are disappointed Republicans still insist on eliminating food assistance and Disability Lifeline, and cutting services to families and children. The budget they rolled out today ... also fails to fund the bipartisan jobs package that could help more than 20,000 Washington’s get to work.
And despite the GOP's revision to the education funding line-items—increasing funding instead of cutting funding—the teachers union, not surprisingly, given the charter schools pitch and the health care takeover (which they're against), was not impressed.
"Instead of expanding the size of state government by taking over educators’ health care and wasting taxpayer money on failed charter schools," Washington Education President Mary Lindquist said, "legislators should respect the Supreme Court’s recent ruling and begin to restore funding for K-12 public schools."