State Senate approves budget, with bipartisan vote
A bipartisan group of state senators is advancing a budget plan that balances spending without new taxes, relying on cuts to social programs and fund transfers that irked some Democrats.
Budget writers from both parties said the spending proposal was developed with input from both sides, and the final vote included support from 21 Republicans and nine Democrats. Republican Sen. Andy Hill said the measure includes some tough decisions but helps reprioritize state spending without relying on taxes.
"The last thing we want to do at this point is take money out of their pockets when they're struggling and when small businesses are struggling," Hill said.
Democrats proposed a variety of amendments to the budget, seeking to add even more money to education and restore some money to social services programs. Sen. Sharon Nelson, a liberal Democrat who helped develop the budget and voted in favor of it, said the vote was difficult for her.
Nelson said the state needs new revenue to help pay for education, higher education and the social safety net.
"The poor are hurt in this budget, and it's painful for all of us," Nelson said. Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray and other Democrats cited the cuts and a lack of revenue in explaining why they were voting against the measure.
One of the most contentious cuts would eliminate a program that provides cash aid to blind, disabled or older people who are typically waiting for approval of federal benefits. Lawmakers would also cut $180 million from a state welfare program, including child care for the working poor.
The House has yet to unveil its budget plan, but Gov. Jay Inslee has called the Senate budget "deeply flawed." Inslee has sought to raise $1.2 billion by extending taxes that were set to expire and eliminating or changing tax breaks.
Compared to the current budget, the spending plan in the Senate would add $1.5 billion more to K-12 education, including $1 billion toward satisfying last year's Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn't meeting its constitutional obligation to properly fund education.
Some of the biggest budget changes include the repeal of a voter-approved initiative that provides cost-of-living raises for teachers, redirecting the assumed $320 million to basic education. The budget also transfers money from other accounts, like the construction budget, to help balance spending.
Senators were also able to balance the budget because of some $300 million in savings that come from a Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care law.
Republicans control the Senate with the help of two Democrats, known as the Majority Coalition Caucus. Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove, the top budget writer in the minority, praised Hill for including him in the process.
"It was very open and very inclusive," Hargrove said.
Still, Hargrove added that he hoped the budget would change — and revenue would be considered — as negotiations expand to include the House and governor in the coming weeks.