State Senate proposes even deeper cuts to education
The Washington state Senate on Tuesday proposed the deepest cuts yet to education and other services to help close a $5.1 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year budget.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
State budgetcomparisonsSome of the key differences between the state Senate and House budget proposals:
Senate: Cut the state allocation for K-12 employee salaries by 3 percent, saving $251 million
House: No salary cut, but freeze step increases for teachers worth $56 million
Senate: Cut $550 million from colleges and universities, partially offset by annual tuition increases of up to 16 percent for two years
House: Cut $532 million, partially offset by annual tuition increases of up to 13 percent for two years
Basic Health Plan
Senate: Reduce the number of enrollees in the state-subsidized insurance program to 34,000 by 2013 fiscal year, saving $122 million
House: Cap enrollment at 41,200, saving $108 million
Senate: Save $235 million by eliminating most cash grants for unemployable disabled people and reducing medical-program enrollment
House: Cut $100 million by converting cash grants to a housing program
Senate: No liquor-privatization plan
House: Raise $300 million by leasing wholesale liquor operations to a private company
Source: Senate Ways and Means Committee, Seattle Times archives
OLYMPIA — The state Senate on Tuesday unveiled a two-year budget that contains the deepest cuts yet to education, including a 3 percent reduction in teacher pay and a plan to take money from schools when students play hooky.
The bipartisan budget cuts $4.8 billion overall and transfers a few hundred million dollars from other funds to bridge a shortfall exceeding $5 billion. The proposal includes double-digit college-tuition increases, cuts to health-care and social-service programs and salary reductions for state employees.
What it wouldn't do is privatize the state liquor wholesale-distribution system. The House budget tentatively booked $300 million in new revenue, assuming details could be worked out to lease the wholesale operation to a private company.
Lawmakers say they're still considering the idea, but Senate budget writers didn't feel confident enough about it to include it in their budget.
Tuesday's release of the Senate proposal means negotiations can begin in earnest to produce a final state budget before the legislative session is scheduled to end April 24. The House passed its version last week.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said lawmakers had little room to maneuver when it came to balancing the spending plan.
"We have few options," he said at a news conference Tuesday night. "This is not a budget of choice; it is a budget of necessity."
Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the Senate's budget shows what can be accomplished when both parties collaborate.
"I think we ended up with a budget that in a lot of ways demonstrates that working together put us in a much better place from a sustainability perspective," said Zarelli, who helped write the budget. "We looked at and made tough decisions about what we can afford to do moving forward, and made some hard decisions about reducing spending."
Republicans and Democrats have said tax increases are off the table this session. Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, approved by voters in November, requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, or voter approval, to boost taxes. Murray said the votes don't exist to pass a tax increase.
The Senate proposal cuts deeper than the House because it did not include liquor-privatization money.
Big cuts not in the House budget include:
• An additional $40 million in savings by furloughing higher-paid state workers. The amount of unpaid time off would increase with pay. For example, a worker making between $50,000 and $75,000 would have to take 16 hours of unpaid time each year. Workers making $125,000 or more would take 64 hours each year.
• A $95 million cut in K-12 funding related to average daily attendance at schools. Essentially, when a student plays hooky, the school would be docked for each day that's missed without a valid excuse. "We believe it's one way to get schools and school districts to get kids and keep them in their classrooms," Murray said.
• A 3 percent pay cut for K-12 employees that would save the state $251 million over two years. The Senate says it's just extending a similar pay cut for state workers to the K-12 system. Murray said the provision is targeted at pay cuts, but noted it's up to the school districts to decide how to make the reductions. They would have to either negotiate pay cuts with their unions or find other ways to reduce spending.
Like the House budget, the Senate version cuts money aimed at reducing class sizes in grades K-4. But it provides some money for K-3 classes in high-poverty schools.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said in a statement he was troubled by the slash in K-12 funding.
The Washington Education Association, a teachers union, said the budget will end up hurting children's education.
"It cuts teacher pay, eliminates funding for more than 1,000 teachers and crams more students into already-overcrowded classrooms," WEA spokesman Rich Wood said. "We have the third-most-crowded classrooms in the country, and this budget will make things worse for our kids."
Said George Scarola, the League of Education Voters legislative-policy director: "Schools are going to be reeling from this budget."
Senate budget writers, however, said higher education comes out slightly better in their budget compared to the House. Although their proposal cuts deeper, it allows for bigger tuition increases than the other budgets, including 16 percent annual increases at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University.
As a result, the net reduction in funding, they said, is less in the Senate plan.
The Senate budget would retain the state Basic Health Plan, which provides subsidized health insurance for the working poor, and Disability Lifeline, which gives cash grants to unemployable disabled people. However, the Senate proposal spends less on those programs than the House plan.
The Associated Press and staff reporter Queenie Wong contributed to this story.
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