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UPDATED: Budgets may look different under Republicans hostile to ‘Olympia math’

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 20, 2013 at 8:30 am with No Comments »
March 21, 2013 8:18 am
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: Republican Senate budget chairman Andy Hill confirmed during today’s revenue forecast meeting that the Senate budget would count up spending a bit differently than those in the past.

“When I talk to voters and constituents and you say well, we’ve got maintenance-level, carry-forward level, they kind of look at you like you have three eyes. The way we’d like to roll out our budget is: This is how much we’ve spent last biennium. This is how much we’re spending this biennium.”

That’s as opposed to traditional budgets that say how much spending is being increased or cut from the levels that WOULD BE in place with no changes to current law.

(To visualize this, take the temporary pay cuts. Furloughs expire June 30 and salaries are scheduled to snap back to their previous levels. So if Democrats’ plan allows that to happen as scheduled, a typical budget wouldn’t show that as an increase. Republicans’ budget presumably would show an increase.)

While it may seem like an arcane debate, what’s important is that Democrats and Republicans sometimes speak different languages when it comes to the budget, and they will have to bridge that gap now that the parties are sharing power.

Here’s what those languages sound like. The two budget chairmen both drew on colorful illustrations today to illustrate their worldview.

Hill said the state budget is like a family budget:

You’ve got a 16-year-old daughter who’s now driving a car. You give her $25 a week for gas, and she drives to school with her siblings. And she comes to you and says, ‘Dad, I want $100 a week for gas.’ And you say, ‘Well, that’s a little excessive. We’ll give you $30 a week, an increase of $5.’ And she goes back to high school and says, ‘My dad cut my gas money by $70.’  That is a cut in Olympia.

House budget chairman Ross Hunter, a Democrat, sees a different kind of family budget:

When you’re sitting down with your family doing the budget every year and you’re looking at your health care expenses and you’re trying to figure out, how are you going to allocate this year’s budget: You may have even gotten a raise. You got a cost of living adjustment to keep up with inflation. And you’re looking at a 10 percent increase in your health care costs. And you’re saying. “Wow. Grandma came to live with us. That increased the number of people we’re paying health care for. Maybe we had a new baby. And man, they’re driving up the premiums on us yet again. And  in order for us to buy the same health care we bought last year — and we’ve got to buy it in the market, it’s not like we’re manufacturing this stuff at home — here’s what the costs look like for that, now how do we allocate the rest of our budget.

This all sounds like a recipe for confusion, as it was yesterday. But Hunter said he expects budgets to contain documents that will allow comparison between them.

Original post:

Reaction was muted Tuesday to Senate Republicans’ call for spending more than $3 billion on Washington’s universities and colleges and 3 percent reduction in tuition for in-state students. And it wasn’t just because no one knows how Republicans will pay for their increase.

It’s also because school officials were scratching their heads about what the plan would mean for their budgets.

The $3.03 billion total over two years is barely more than the $2.97 billion former Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed before leaving office or the $2.99 billion House Republicans included in a partial budget outline last week.

But Senate Republicans called it a $300 million increase, several times as high as the numbers either Gregoire or House Republicans used to describe their plans.

College officials said the Senate increase appears more like $75 million to $100 million.

Why all the different totals? Different math. Typically, state-government budget “cuts” or “increases” don’t count carry-forward spending that is needed to carry out current law — such as school-employee salaries snapping back to their previous higher levels when unpaid furloughs end this June.

A balance sheet by nonpartisan staff provided by House Republicans calls that proposal a $48 million increase for higher education on top of carry-forward levels.

Republicans often deride such figures as “Olympia math,” and now that they have taken over the Senate with help from two Democrats, budgets may look different. “We’ll see a budget presented so people back home can understand it,” Baumgartner predicted.

Still, since Senate Republicans didn’t release a balance sheet or account for the carry-forward spending, it was difficult to compare their plan to others. University of Washington state-relations director Margaret Shepherd and community-college system director Marty Brown both said they were trying to figure out the numbers.

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