Budget negotiations continue

Washington State SenateThe $2-billion-deficit budget that the House proposed on the last day of the regular session was a non-starter for the bipartisan Senate coalition committed to reform. We presented a responsible, sustainable budget from which we could have begun negotiations. The majority in the House, however, chose not to even allow their budget negotiators to the table to talk.

On March 15, the bipartisan coalition in the Senate once again attempted to break the budget stalemate with a revised version of our original reform budget. It was the first compromise proposal of the special session (you can watch the news conference at this link). Our hope was that it would encourage negotiations and get the budget process moving.

The new bipartisan Senate budget proposal remains true to the coalition’s goals of sustainability, reforms that will produce long-term savings, and closing the $1.1 billion budget hole with no new taxes. It responds to concerns we heard about the initial coalition budget and eliminates cuts to K-12, higher education and child care. It avoids another deficit in the next biennium by maintaining a reserve, avoiding one-time fixes and making the $330 million basic education payment to our schools on time (unlike the House Democrat budget, which skips this payment and creates a $2 billion deficit next year).

The budget includes some key reforms:

  • Senate Joint Resolution 8222 – Constitutional amendment increasing the 2-year balanced budget requirement to a 4-year balanced budget requirement.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 8221 – Constitutional amendment lowering the state’s debt limit.
  • Senate Bill 6618 – My bill to make non-basic education mandates (I-728, I-732) subject to available funds, and create a legislative task force to develop a K-12 education funding plan to respond to the Supreme Court ruling that the state must “provide ample provision” for basic education by 2018.
  • Senate Bill 6442 – Reforming the K-12 employee health benefits system.
  • Senate Bill 6378 (revised) – Reforming the state’s public pension system for new hires after July 1, 2012 and using the savings to pay off the state’s pension debt.

The coalition proposal also seeks to improve student learning in the state’s 10 “persistently lowest achieving” schools with a revised charter school bill (Senate Bill 6202). Now the authors of the House and Senate are working to craft a final budget that a majority of both sides can agree upon.