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‘Hail Mary’ budget passes House; outlook uncertain in Senate

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on March 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
March 8, 2012 6:19 pm

Democrats are drawing a line in the sand with the latest House budget bill on its way to the Senate tonight, saying it is better to move a $330 million payment to public schools into the next budget cycle than to cut education and health-care programs this year.

The 53-to-45 vote was partisan with just three Democrats – Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, Rep. Deb Eddy of Kirkland and Rep. Jeff Morris of Anacortes – voting against it and no Republicans in favor. Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5967 goes back to the Senate for a yes or no vote.

House Speaker Frank Chopp (left) and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt meet in the rear of the House chambers during debate on budget. That's Rep. John McCoy in foreground. (Photo courtesy of House of Representatives, Louie Balukoff)

But there is an exceedingly good chance it will die tonight before the midnight deadline, pushing lawmakers into the special session everyone is waiting for once tonight’s formalities are finished. Senate Republicans want a cooling off period before coming back next week.

House Republicans mounted a long verbal attack on the Democrats’ budget in floor debate, saying the delayed payment is a fiscal crime and Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said the accounting techniques have put some people in jail.

Many others quoted the state Treasurer Jim McIntire, a Democrat, who dislikes the one-day delay in K-12 payments, and Rep. Ed Orcutt claimed there is a 40 percent chance the $330 million won’t be there when the time to spend it arrives.

Other GOP members contended the delay constitutes a funding cut for sacrosanct public schools – even though schools are likely to get the same amount of money, one day late, in the next budget cycle.

Democrats fought back against the claim schools are being cut, and some took pains to say school districts won’t have less money in the 2012-13 school year. And if one counts the delayed payment as money schools actually will get in the 2012-13 school year, the Democrats’ plan actually spends more on schools than the alternative budgets Republicans have offered.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Ross Hunter crafted the latest proposal with Senate Democrats, who are still looking for 25 votes to pass it. Apart from the payment delay, Hunter said: “We make no cuts to K-12. We make no cuts to higher ed. We make no cuts to financial aid.’’

The no-cuts to schools marks a line in the sand for Democrats who have held the majority and cut funds for K-12 education and higher education in recent budget cycles as the show economic recovery has slowed a recovery in revenues and left budget deficits.

Senate Democrats drew the line first. They offered a budget proposal last week that avoided cuts to K-12 and higher education, but failed to attract a 25 vote majority. Democratic Sen. Ed Murray had said it was time to stop cutting education several budget cycles of cutting.

So far, chances don’t look great for the House budget in the Senate. A coalition of 22 Republicans and three conservative Democrats is showing no sign of breaking after last week’s floor maneuvers. The coalition seized control of the budget from Senate Democrats last Friday and passed a budget that spends less overall and on schools.

This is shaping up as a late night. The clock runs out on the 60-day session at midnight.

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