This Washington

Supplemental Budget Deal Reached, Tough Decisions Still Loom

Legislature passes mid-term budget while ignoring K-12 mandate.

By Josh Feit March 13, 2014

The Republican-dominated state senate and Democratic house have reached a budget deal; this year's budget is simply a supplemental budget, adjusting the 2013-15 biennial budget that state lawmakers approved last year.

There's a lot of back slapping and cheering about the vote among legislators in Olympia today, but the fact remains: Based on revenue projections and under the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate that the city fully fund K-12 education, the state is coming up short.

It's true, though, that today's mid-term budget increases spending by $155 million in an updated $33.6 billion budget.

With money from the Affordable Care Act, slightly higher than expected revenues, and a decrease in social service expenditures (eligibility was scaled back during the 2009-2011 fiscal crisis), the $155 million includes: $58 million million extra in to K-12 funding for books and supplies, $20.3 million in community health funding, and $25 million in higher ed scholarships. The legislature also kept the cap on college tuition increases.

The mental health add covers an alphabet soup list of worthy programs, but some concrete examples are: 48 new beds for in-patient crisis care (this will address the boarding crisis, where mental health patients in crisis were just getting sent to the ER and not getting specialized mental health care) and 200 more slots for out-patient mental health treatment.

The money generated some rosy quotes from Democrats and Republicans alike. House Democratic majority leader Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington) said:

“This is a very good supplemental budget that makes additional investments in our schools, provides a robust mental health package to help communities provide needed services, and repurposes funds to help struggling families in our state."

The Republican budget lead, state Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), also released a statement noting the additional health-care dollars, saying the additions "will provide services to 5,000 people with developmental disabilities currently on a wait list without costing the state additional money."

But mostly Hill hyped the budget in terms of education spending:

"If we are to meet our constitutional obligation to our kids—and meet it responsibly revenue and dedicated funding sources must be part of the conversation. ... Tough decisions await us all next year.”—Sen. Sharon Nelson“Last year we made substantial investments in education in a responsible way that allowed us to enter session without a deficit for the first time since 2008. Because of our progress prioritizing education in last year’s budget we were able to make reasonable advancements that put students first.”

But the K-12 spending is actually the red flag for what's wrong with the budget.

For starters, the "additional" money actually brings the  investment—above and beyond the baseline $15 billion—to about $1 billion—or $400 million shy of the estimated amount they needed to hit this biennium to meet the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary decision. And they're simultaneously on the hook for about $1.9 billion extra in the 2015-2017 beinnium and about $1.2 billion for the 2017-2019 biennium. Additionally, the state needs to find about $1 billion to $1.5 billion in teacher salaries. Grand total: $5 billion.

Democatic senate minority leader Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34, W. Seattle) was candid about this reality. Nagging the rest of the gang, obviously, the lady senator in the room said stridently: "There is no question we have a staggeringly large bill coming due for K-12 funding in our state in just a few short years. If we are to meet our constitutional obligation to our kids—and meet it responsibly—revenue and dedicated funding sources must be part of the conversation. ... Tough decisions await us all next year.”

"Next year" is actually wishful thinking. The court issued an order in January saying they wanted to see a plan from the state by April 30 outlining how the legislature intended to meet the looming obligation. The Democrats have proposed cutting about $200 million in tax breaks.

That hardly gets the state there, though. And as the lefty Washington State Budget and Policy Center has pointed out: Both Democrats and Republicans are using 4.5 percent revenue growth in their estimates, but current numbers show a 4.3 percent increase. The difference puts the budget for the next biennium, just to meet current obligations, $60 million in the red. Add that to the billions needed for K-12 funding and there's very little reason to celebrate.


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