The Senate budget plan crafted by Republicans with help from minority Democrats has drawn a broadside from Gov. Jay Inslee for what he called “short term fixes and budget tricks.” The plan does not identify new significant sources of revenue for public schools, which Inslee proposed last week in the form of extended taxes on beer and businesses and closure of tax breaks for select industries.
Republican Sen. Andy Hill, who was the principal architect of the $33.2 billion plan, touted it as strong on funding K-12 education, cutting tuition instead of increasing it at colleges, and avoiding new taxes.
But Inslee’s office put out his sharply critical statement as follows:
“This proposal is deeply flawed. It’s the same old game that relies on short-term fixes and budget tricks, and it results in policy choices that would take our state backward.
“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. It would make deep cuts to our state prison system, would force us to close state parks and fall far short of my plan for expanding early childhood education opportunities.
“What’s more, the Senate proposal relies heavily on unworkable or unrealistic across-the-board savings, phantom cuts that will leave us with a bigger problem in our next budget. We need to be accountable to the citizens of Washington and be straightforward with them about how we will balance the budget with a sustainable way to meet the urgent needs of — and the constitutional obligation to — our children.
“I’m heartened that some senators recognize the need for a workable, long-term financing plan for education that doesn’t cut services to our most vulnerable citizens or rely on gimmicks and half-measures. I look forward to working with all senators to find a real solution to our state’s pressing needs.”
Inslee’s claims are open to question. Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, who collaborated on Hill’s writing of the budget, said the proposal does not actually reduce child care grants below what are being used now. But it does fund them at lower levels than after the most recent rounds of budget cuts in 2011. UPDATE: Inslee’s budget office says it is true no one would be expelled from the program under the lower funding level but enrollment is predicted to rise above the funding level provided in the Senate budget.
That said, Hargrove and Democratic Sen. Sharon Nelson of Maury Island both expressed concern about the depth of some cuts to housing programs, and Hargrove expressed surprise at a press conference the final proposal cuts tuition.
Hargrove also expressed concern that the level of funding for the Working Connections Child Care program may not be adequate.
The budget measure – which is contained in Senate Bill 5034 – goes to a hearing at the Senate Ways and Means Committee at 3:30 p.m. today.
It is still unclear how many votes the Majority Coalition Caucus, which has 23 Republicans and two Democrats, can muster for the plan. But Hill said he hopes to run the bill out for a vote in the Senate this week as lawmakers try to finish their work on time – adjourning April 28 after 105 days.
Inslee has proposed $1.2 billion in new revenue by making expiring temporary taxes on beer and businesses permanent. He also would close numerous tax breaks – including fixing a loophole flaw in the estate tax created by a Supreme Court ruling. Hill said the Senate plan allows the $160 million tax break to remain on the books as a result of the court ruling that benefits married couples, but not individuals subject to paying the estate tax.
UPDATE: House Appropriations chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, added criticism that some of the budget proposals are not going to answer the court’s demands:
“While it is nice that the Senate Republicans have acknowledged our responsibility to fund the McCleary decision, they have done so with a budget proposal that relies on assumptions that are unconstitutional or unsustainable. The Supreme Court has been pretty cranky about this issue, and this budget will do nothing to improve their mood.
“In addition to being unsustainable, some of their decisions seem downright cruel. Providing child care subsidies for parents trying to get back into the workforce was part of the deal when we “reinvented welfare” two decades ago. Cutting it now will not only force single moms back onto welfare, it will perpetuate the opportunity gap in our schools for years to come.
“I am also very concerned with some of the shaky assumptions made in the proposal. There are $157 million in unnamed efficiencies, $40 million in an uncollectable use tax, and $166 million in a school trust transfer that is clearly unconstitutional.
“We have spent the last five years making our budget more sustainable with actions like reducing our long-term pension obligations and cutting staffing at all levels. A budget built on unconstitutional actions and assumptions that are unlikely to come true moves us away from sustainability.”