Washington State House, Senate agree on budget

After several hours of late-night budget negotiations, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers in the House and Senate compromised on the final remaining disagreements in the framework last Friday.

  • Tuesday, June 30, 2015 12:30pm
  • News

After several hours of late-night budget negotiations, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers in the House and Senate compromised on the final remaining disagreements in the framework last Friday.

The final operating budget, SSB 6052, was approved by the House Monday evening by a vote of 90-8. Additional details can be found here.

Among the highlights of the budget deal:

  • $1.3 billion – Basic education funding for K-3 class size reduction, all-day kindergarten, maintenance, supplies and operating costs (MSOC). This investment meets obligations under HB 2776 portion of the McCleary decision.
  • $284 million – Fully honors the state and higher education employee compensation agreements – 3 percent cost-of-living-adjustment in the first year, 1.8 percent COLA in the second year.
  • $157 million – Teacher compensation in-line with the state employee amount.
  • $159 million – Higher education investments to reduce tuition.
  • $159 million – Investments to expand access, increase quality and improve outcomes for kids in early learning programs.
  • $100 million – New investments to fix problems in the mental health system.
  • $31 million – Additional investments for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The following are statements from the key leaders of the House Democratic Caucus budget negotiating team.

Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle)

“We feel very strongly that this is a great budget, fulfilling the needs of the people of the state of Washington in terms of basic education, early learning, mental health care, and health care for all through the Apple Health program. The list of accomplishments in this budget is very, very encouraging for the future of the state of Washington.”

Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington)

“I’m glad we were able to reach a compromise agreement on the budget. There’s a great deal to like, including increased funding for education, mental health, and the safety net. We’re also glad the Senate realized more revenue was needed to fund these important programs.

“However, the budget still uses one-time transfers and assumes unrealistic marijuana sales revenue. These accounting maneuvers mean we may face significant budget issues down the road. But in a divided government, compromise with the Senate Republicans had to be found. In the end we managed to come to agreement on a budget that ultimately will help our state move forward.”

Appropriations Committee Chair Ross Hunter (D-Media)

“For the last eight months, I’ve stated our budget will make critical investments in basic education and meet our McCleary obligation, fix a broken mental health system, and restore some of the devastating cuts that were enacted during the Great Recession. This budget accomplishes all of those priorities.

“Our budget also opens the door for more students who want to get a college education, makes a historic investment in early learning, and addresses services gaps in areas like foster care, food assistance, and TANF. Teachers and state employees will be receiving well-deserved compensation increases after going six years without a cost-of-living-adjustment from the state.

“I’m disappointed that for a second straight budget year, the politics in Olympia led us to the brink of a possible government shutdown. That was completely unnecessary. Once the Senate realized they couldn’t fund the priorities of both sides by using excessive fund transfers and gimmicks, they agreed to close corporate tax loopholes and the path to compromise was found fairly quickly. The state budget requires consistent and reliable revenue to avoid major budget problems down the road. It’s my hope that subsequent budgets are adopted using stable revenue sources, not one-time accounting tricks.”

Not all parties were happy with the final result.

Washington State Education Association President Kim Mead

“As educators, we are committed to the success of every single one of our students, regardless of their ZIP code. That’s why we’re so disappointed the Washington Legislature is failing to fulfill its paramount duty to Washington’s 1 million public school students. Legislators may claim they’re fully funding education, but educators know the truth: this budget falls far short of fully funding smaller class sizes and professional, competitive educator pay and benefits.”

The following is according to the WEA:

Smaller K-12 class sizes and adequate pay and benefits are crucial parts of the Legislature’s constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education – yet the budget released Monday does not provide what’s required by McCleary:

  • The budget leaves students in grades 4-12 packed into some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the country. By cutting $2 billion in required funding for smaller class sizes as required by I-1351, this budget increases class sizes in grades 4-12. Those students will not benefit from the one-on-one attention smaller class sizes provide.
  • The budget funds a minimal 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for educators over two years as required by I-732, and a temporary, one-time 1.8 percent increase that goes away after two years. Senate Republicans consistently opposed funding a higher permanent salary increase for school employees. Legislators themselves will receive a permanent 11.2 percent raise, state employees also will get a permanent 4.8 percent and it’s been six years since educators received a state COLA. A COLA is not a raise.
  • The budget provides a minimal increase in funding for educator health care, but nowhere near what state employees and legislators themselves will receive. Higher out-of-pocket health care costs will negate the COLA for some educators and result in a net pay cut for many teachers and support staff. That will make it more difficult to attract and keep the qualified, caring educators students need to be successful.

Mead said if it weren’t for the ongoing efforts of Washington educators, the Legislature likely would not have provided any new K-12 funding. More than 40,000 WEA members staged one-day strikes or walkouts against the Legislature this spring, the first teacher strikes against the Washington Legislature since 1999. WEA members played a major role in the two ballot initiatives (I-732 and I-1351) and the McCleary court case that dominated this year’s budget discussions.

“Along with parents, WEA members are the strongest advocates for our kids and the quality education they deserve,” Mead said. “We are proud of our actions to support Washington’s public schools.”

 

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