Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are down to the last nine days of the 60-day legislative session. At least I hope so. There are rumblings that we may be heading to a special session. That would be inexcusable. We have discussed our budget shortfall since last May and already held one special session to try and address it, plus we have been here for the last eight weeks. With that said I can understand why some think we may be heading into overtime. If you look at the House Democrats budget proposal, it is not a fiscally responsible or sustainable budget. Remember, the only thing we need to do in a short session is pass a supplemental budget that adjusts the previous year's biennial budget to ensure it is viable through the remainder of the fiscal cycle.
I touch on the proposed budgets in my video update this week. Click here to watch it.
House Democrat budget
The majority party's spending plan in the House takes about $405 million in education payments and levy equalization money and pushes it into the next biennium. The press is using terms like “kick-the-can-down-the-road” and “budget gimmicks.” This is basically credit card spending that must stop. Read the Washington State Wire story linked below to find out the last time this budget practice was used and how long it took the Legislature to pay it off. The majority was quoted in the press this week that their budget proposal pushes the problem into the future and would still leave a substantial shortfall:
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who has advocated for a capital gains tax, said a spring ballot proposal is looking unlikely. She said the state could have another $2 billion shortfall next year under Hunter's plan, and many Democrats are starting to look at major tax reforms to fix that problem longer term. – The Olympian (02/22/12)
The other glaring difference from the House Republican budget is the impact it will have on local governments. Not only does the majority party cut funding to local governments, but they then give these same local governments the authority to raise taxes without a vote of the people to make up the difference. It seems like they've found a way to go around the voter-approved two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes at the state level.
They also make severe cuts to services for our most vulnerable, such as supported employment for developmentally disabled, nursing home reimbursement rates and adult day health services.
To view a side-by-side comparison of Republican and Democrat proposals click here. You can also see what the media is reporting on the majority party's spending plan:
- Tacoma News Tribune – Democrats' budget proposal would shift costs to cities, counties
- Seattle Times – Accounting gimmick is big part of state House budget moves
- Associated Press – Budget from House Dems relies on delayed payments
- Washington State Wire – Shades of the 25th Month! – House Democratic Proposal Balances Budget by Borrowing $400 Million From Future
The editorials have also been critical of their proposed budget:
- Seattle Times – Washington's House Democrats' budget irresponsibly pushes problems ahead
- The News Tribune – Still waiting for a reality-based budget from Olympia
- The Columbian – Kick Less, Reform More
- Tri-City Herald – House Democrats propose untenable budget package
My greatest concerns with the proposal are that it ignores economic realities and fails to move our state forward with long-term, sustainable economic and budget solutions.
Senate Democrat budget
The Senate Democrat budget does much of the same as the House Democrat budget, but at a slightly less level. The delayed payments to schools is slightly less and some of the cuts to local government and programs for our most vulnerable are lower than the House D's, but the spending plan is still not sustainable and fails to provide a stable and common-sense solution to our state operating budget. Senate Majority Lisa Brown is quoted as saying “The underlying structural issue is not addressed in this budget.” You can read the story from the Associated Press: “Wash. Dems agree: Delay payments to fix budget.” Not only does it use the same credit card spending approach as the House budget, but it reduces the ending balance more than any of the other plans leaving only $369 million in reserves.
House Republican budget
On Feb. 17 our caucus introduced the Legislature's first complete supplemental budget proposal for the 2012 session. It is a budget that would protect the core services of state government and it focuses on our three main priorities – basic education, public safety and our most vulnerable citizens including our seniors, children and the disabled. This with: no state sales tax increase; no bonding; no securitization; and no budget gimmicks.
It is uncommon for the minority party to introduce a proposed operating budget, but we must be solution-oriented and offer alternatives. Our budget provides a great starting point. Had it been allowed to move through the process, with some amendments, it indeed could have set our state on the road to a sustainable budget. We introduced our detailed education only budget three weeks ago, as
part of our Fund Education First plan, and this budget is a continuation of how we would budget and what our priorities would be in the spending plan.
The many differences between the House Republican and House Democrats' operating budget proposals are in our three priority areas of education, public safety and protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Here are some of the major differences in our budget priority areas:
- Fully funds levy equalization;
- Maintains current funding for all-day kindergarten;
- Spends $580 million more on K-12 education than the governor – and about $360 million more than the House Democrats' proposal;
- Includes new funding for gang violence prevention programs;
- Fully funds critical access hospitals;
- Maintains funding for supported employment, supported living, eligibility for personal care services for the developmentally disabled; and
- Maintains funding for adult day health services.
During the remainder of the legislative session, the House Democrats will be working with their Senate counterparts to iron out the differences between the two proposed budgets. We in the minority will be working very hard to get some fiscally responsible ideas into – and some bad ideas out of the final budget.
State Park funding
An amendment I attached to a bill would allow the state to put local hotel-motel taxes toward state parks. The money amounts to about $600,000 a year and the amendment accomplishes this with no increase to taxpayers. It isn't a great deal of money, but our parks are struggling and any additional monies we can provide to assist with maintenance and operation will help. The amendment passed and the bill is still moving through the process. However, you should know I did not support the overall bill. House Bill 2373, the measure the amendment is attached too, does not resolve the problems we have with the Discover Pass and the management of our state's recreational resources. The bill is headed to the Senate for consideration.
Please do not hesitate to contact me in the final days if you have any questions on the budget or any other issue we may be dealing with as we approach March 8.