Morning Fizz

Democrats Save Social Safety Net and Education, Republicans Get Fiscal Reforms, Lawmakers Wrap Up Session

By Morning Fizz April 11, 2012

Democratic budget chief Sen. Ed Murray won on fully funding education

Lawmakers in Olympia got in their cars to drive back home around 7:30 this morning after an agreement (forged between the competing Democratic house proposal and the senate Republican-plus-three-Democrats-proposal late yesterday afternoon) kicked off an all-night session to pass the $30 billion budget and a batch of bills. Legislators have been wresting with a $2 billion shortfall since late last year.

Fizz Toplines: 1) A $1 billion infrastructure construction bonds bill sponsored by Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-44, Snohomish) and Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-26, Gig Harbor) passed (the bill, funded from existing revenue streams, is expected to create 18,000 jobs); 2) the social safety net—the Disability Lifeline, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the State Food Assistance Program, the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Treatment Support Act, and family planning services (all slated for elimination and/or drastic cuts in the coup budget passed by GOP budget chief Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield)), were restored by the Democrats in the compromise; and 3) in return, the Republicans got three reform bills.

They are: a requirement to balance the budget four years in advance (though it didn't come with the two-thirds vote requirement the GOP wanted to alter the bottom line if more revenue than expected changed the outlook); more state control over localized K-12 employee health employee plans; and pension reform that prohibits new state employees from collecting early retirement and penalizes older employees by scaling back their pensions if they retire early, which is projected to save the state $1.3 billion over 25 years.

Early this morning, Zarelli said: “It’s safe to figure none of these reforms would have made it through the legislature if our bipartisan coalition had not taken the lead on the budget process in the Senate, and we would not have had a bipartisan coalition without the three Democratic senators who were rock-solid in their commitment to reforms. They proved ideas were stronger than affiliations.”

State Sen. Jim Kastama, who pushed the four-year balanced budget amendment, was one of three Democrats who stood by Republican budget leader Sen. Joe Zarelli

A spokesman for Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) the Democratic senate budget chief, pointed out that Murray's original budget, displaced by Zarelli's coup, funded all those social service programs in the first place (not to mention adding $32 million to K-12 while Zarelli's original proposal cut $44 million from K-12. Murray also held higher education harmless while Zarelli had initially proposed cutting $30 million).

Murray said: “The Senate Democrats’ proposal in February was the first to fully protect education. Today we passed a budget that held the line on education. We passed a budget that preserved services that keep the most vulnerable Washingtonians safe and healthy. We protected family planning, food assistance and other services that had been targeted for cuts or outright elimination. It’s taken longer than I would have liked to reach this point. Much of the difficulty and expense of the past special session could have been avoided. But if the price of protecting our students, seniors and vulnerable neighbors was a month of difficult negotiations, it was well worth it.”

The legislature also repealed the $15 million big bank tax exemption for interest earned on first-time mortgage loans (a reform that wasn't part of Zarelli's budget, but was a starred item in the house Democratic budget).

Though, in order to get the two-thirds vote, a batch of other exemptions were attached to the bill, including a tax break for data farms. "I voted against the bill," state Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Seattle) said, "because I was offended by the linkage—taking a bill to end a break for the biggest banks in the world hostage by extending other preferences."

Carlyle, who lost his own ongoing battle to repeal hundreds of tax exemptions and force them to be approved one by one on their merits, just like budget spends said: "These preferences, and I supported the ones that we passed [last night], need to stand on their own, otherwise we disappear into a vortex of politics hell."

The AP's Rachel La Corte has a good summary of the final budge compromise.
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