Senate budget proposal quickly draws criticism
Education, programs for the poor eyed for significant cuts
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Senate’s budget proposal for 2011-13, released late Tuesday, won early praise for the bipartisan process used to draft it. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat, and Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the committee’s ranking Republican, worked on the budget and rolled it out together. No one can remember such an occurrence happening before.
Even the press release attempted, not entirely successfully, to reconcile Murray’s and Zarelli’s conflicting views on the role state spending played in producing multibillion-dollar state deficits over the past six years.
But all that bipartisanship didn’t silence critics, who got their first detailed look at the deep cuts in the spending plan Wednesday.
“Instead of upholding our state’s commitment to help people weather the economic recession, this is an all-cuts budget that makes drastic cuts to vital programs for people who are already in crisis,” said Marcy Bower of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.
The two-year budget makes $4.8 billion in reductions, counts on no new revenue, transfers $487 million in funds, and leaves an ending fund balance of $735 million.
Teachers are the most obvious targets of the spending plan. The Senate proposes a 3 percent cut in the salaries of K-12 teachers and numerous other rollbacks in education funding.
But the budget also cuts state dollars for children’s health and cost-of-living increases on retirees’ pension, shrinks the safety net for the working poor and the disabled, and requires furloughs (“temporary layoffs,” in budget jargon) for higher-paid state employees on a graduated scale, with 64 hours’ worth of annual furloughs for those earning $125,000 a year or more.
Under the budget, admission to the Basic Health Plan for low-income uninsured people will be frozen and enrollment capped at 34,000 by next year, down from its current enrollment of 41,000.
Admission to Disability Lifeline, which aids poor, disabled adults, will be capped at 11,700, down from the current enrollment of 20,000, and cash grants will be eliminated for most recipients.
College students will take a big hit as tuition at the state’s higher education institutions rises by between 11 and 16 percent annually over the next biennium. The tuition hikes — 16 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State and Western Washington universities, 14 percent at The Evergreen State College and Central Washington University, 12 percent at community and technical colleges, and 11 percent at Eastern Washington University — will partially offset a proposed $617.5 million cut in state appropriations. The budget would appropriate 22 percent less than the amount needed to continue current programs and activities.
“Once again, the devastating impacts of an all-cuts budget are made clear,” the progressive Washington State Budget and Policy Center said in a statement. “Washington’s recovery requires a rational, balanced approach to the ongoing economic crisis.”
Under the Senate proposal, four-year institutions would be granted full-tuition setting authority beginning in the 2013-15 biennium.
The free-market Washington Policy Center noted that the budget includes $2.5 million to implement a new medical marijuana bill and $23.7 million to begin implementing a new health benefit exchange that’s part of the federal health reform law.
Spending is cut for numerous health and long-term care programs for the poor, from aid to community clinics to maternity support to personal dental care to family planning services.
The budget proposes major reforms to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), one of several social services program Zarelli targeted last year after a website established by the Senate Republican Caucus received reports of widespread fraud and abuse.
Under the Senate budget, all TANF recipients will be required to work, although the mandatory work program will be suspended for one year for families with a child younger than age 6. The state will also increase the number and visibility of fraud detection employees in public assistance programs.
The budget anticipates $70 million in savings from these efforts.
For natural resources agencies, the budget projects $49 million in savings by making the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources self-supporting through user fees. The agencies will issue $30 annual passes that will allow the public to use their lands.
The Senate is expected to vote on the operating budget Friday, setting the stage for reconciliation of the House and Senate spending plans and the budget Gov. Chris Gregoire presented to the Legislature in December.
The 2011 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn April 24.