State Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), the senate budget chair, rolled out his budget proposal today flanked by his Republican colleague Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-12, Wenatchee), the Republican caucus chair. However, to demonstrate that his proposal was bipartisan, Hill also had Democratic state Sens. Jim Hargrove (D-24, Hoquiam), the Democratic budget lead, and budget committee assistant ranking member Sharon Nelson (D-34, W. Seattle), beside him too.
"I think you can see, we’ve done it in a bipartisan way," Hill said after unveiling a $33 billion budget that would add $1 billion to K-12 education to meet the Washington State Supreme Court mandate to increase spending on basic education. "I really want to thank senators Hargrove and Nelson for working with us every step of the way."
However, the proposal ultimately comes from Republican budget chair Hill, and it leaned right; it doesn't raise any new revenue (though it banks on $303 million from Obamacare Medicaid money) and it cuts favorite Democratic programs such as $113 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program and the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program.
It also takes advantage of years of program scale-backs and stricter eligibility requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Working Connections and Child Care (WCCC) —a program that helps working families get early learning opportunities for their kids—booking $183 million as "savings."
As a result, Hargrove and Nelson went off message when Hill turned the mike over to them. (Or to be clearer: they got on message—Democratic Party message.)
Hargrove started in gently. Making fun of Hill's statement that the key numbers were zero (the projected budget deficit the legislature will face next year if they pass his budget), four (the number of years out they need to write a balanced budget for), 21 (an education system for the 21st Century), and 105 (the number of days they have in the session to get this done), Hargrove added the number two.
"That's the number of votes we currently have for this budget," he said, "Andy's and mine," stressing that their respective caucuses still had to line up behind it."The process has been bipartisan," Hargrove, a staunch advocate for child care funding, said. "Whether this budget is bipartisan is another question." He called the cuts to ABD, HEN, and WCCC "really problematic." Rather than program cuts, Democrats have been calling for new revenue.
"We need some revenues," Hargrove said, "or else we won’t get out of here in 105 days."
Nelson was even more direct: "This budget has cuts [that impact] those individuals [people who rely on ABD and HEN] significantly. We will be asking for more revenue." Nelson said Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee's proposal, which raises $565 million in revenue by closing tax loopholes, was more in line with her caucus.
"We have been talking to the governor about what he proposed last week, and we don’t consider that off the table."
With the veneer of bipartisanship peeling away, Hill stepped back in for his say: "It was pretty clear taxes were not something we should consider. It was very clear, whether you want [taxes] or not, I don't know that you have the votes."
"We chose education over the rest of government,"—Republican leader Sen. Mark Schoesler
Out in the hall afterward, Republican leader Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-9, Ritzville) responded directly to the Democrats' criticism that the budget cut social programs. "We chose education over the rest of government," he said.
Liberals argue that government programs such as WCCC can't be separted from education funding. "Hungry kids can't learn," Joshua Friedes, spokesman for the lefty Our Economic Future Coalition, said.
As the press conference wound down, Hargrove, made an attempt to restore some sense of bipartisanship camaraderie. "You’re seeing tension that is left," he said implying that, in general, with $1 billion going to K-12, $9.4 million in increased state food assistance, collective bargaining contracts in tact, and family planning services protected, he was mostly happy with the proposal. "Andy has it [tension] on his side, and I'm going to have it on mine. But we're trying to get through this press conference still liking each other."
Ultimately, the show of bipartisanship collapsed altogether when Gov. Inslee, who the Republicans had been citing as a no-new-taxes ally all session, issued a blistering statement.
“This proposal is deeply flawed," Gov. Inslee said. "And it results in policy choices that would take our state backward." He also said it came with "budget tricks." He was referring to the proposal's vague savings from "efficiencies," "consolidation," and "TBD" savings in excess use taxes.
Meanwhile, other critics of the proposal complained that the plan takes money from the capital budget (using money that's already bonded for local projects.)
The Senate proposal to address our basic education obligations is funded in large part through cuts to vital services for children, families and vulnerable adults — exactly what I have said we must not do. The proposal released today would cut child care subsidies for low-income families and other families working to get off welfare, and reduce long-term care services for the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.