The state Senate voted tonight to adopt a state operating budget for 2011-13, ending months of negotiation that helped push the Legislature into a 30-day special session. I joined a bipartisan majority in support of the spending plan, saying it offers a responsible combination of reforms and spending discipline that will help put state government back on solid financial ground.
I remember the last time the Legislature passed a budget that spent less than the state expected to take in – that was 1997. This budget comes in about 350 million dollars less than the anticipated revenue, and leaves more than 700 million dollars in reserve. Hopefully that will be enough to weather any more revenue reductions as we go through this year.
No one figured this budget would include tax increases, thanks to the limit reinstated by the voters several months ago, but it also doesn’t include fees that were rumored earlier this session: no water fees, no agricultural fees, no fees for habitat or forest protection. I have to believe the bipartisan approach the Senate took to this budget had a lot to do with holding the line in those areas.
Funding for K-12 schools will climb by $356 million, with the level of funding per pupil going up as well. Schools will have more discretion regarding how they spend state money, and funding for levy equalization will be preserved, benefiting two-thirds of Washington school districts.
Funding for county agricultural fairs will remain whole and while conservation districts will see a drop in funding, the budget agreement also contains a breakthrough related to water management: For the first time, funding for the Department of Ecology will be tied to its performance on water-right processing.
Here’s a list of reforms in other areas of government that make the budget package good for taxpayers, including:
• workers’ compensation reform, which benefits both employers and workers;
• caps and controls on the Basic Health Plan and “disability lifeline”;
• steps to reduce rampant abuse of electronic benefit-transfer cards;
• more flexibility concerning Medicaid spending, which constitutes a large part of state spending;
• an emphasis on contracting services out through the creation of a new enterprise-services agency; and
• less reliance on transfers from other funds, one-time cash infusions or budget gimmicks, such as “securitizing” tobacco settlement money.
Today was the final day of the special session. The new budget, which passed 34-13 in the Senate, will take effect July 1.