Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The majority party released its budget proposal yesterday to address the state's $1.1 billion spending gap. You may recall the $1.5 billion number I referenced in my last e-mail update, but recent caseload and revenue forecasts revealed the budget shortfall has decreased.
Reaction to the proposal has been somewhat negative, with a headline in the Seattle Times saying: “Accounting gimmick is big part of state House budget moves.” The article says: “The biggest moves in the budget are essentially accounting gimmicks. House Democrats propose delaying a June 2013 K-12 payment until July 2013, which puts the expenditure into the next two year budget cycle. They also would delay levy equalization payments – money for 'property-poor' districts – in a similar fashion.” You can read the article here.
My greatest concerns with the proposal are that it ignores economic realities and fails to move our state forward with long-term, sustainable economic and budget solutions. It would also:
- provide local governments more authority to raise taxes, which would hurt struggling individuals and families;
- make cuts to community supervision that would jeopardize public safety; and
- eliminate services for the developmentally disabled looking for jobs.
For contrast of this proposal, the governor's and the House Republicans', please continue to read on.
Step 1: Fund Education First
The governor released a budget proposal last November that would cut K-12 education by more than $630 million and then ask voters to buy some of these cuts back through a state sales tax increase. K-12 education should be our state's number one priority – not demoted to buy-back status. The state constitution calls it our “paramount duty” and a recent state Supreme Court decision, McCleary v. State, said the Legislature is not living up to its funding obligations.
There is a way to ensure K-12 education is fully funded each year: Fund Education First. This is not a slogan, it is legislation that would ensure K-12 education is funded before any other state appropriations. House Bill 2533 has seven Democratic co-sponsors, is supported by eight major education groups and received a public hearing on January 31, but was not allowed to move forward in the legislative process. This concept was first introduced in 2006. It is time to change the way we budget for our number one priority.
Step 2: Stand-alone, K-12 education budget proposal
House Republicans took the Fund Education First concept a step further and showed how it would be applied by proposing a stand-alone, K-12 education budget proposal on February 2. In a news conference, which you can watch here, we explained how our plan would:
- fully fund levy equalization;
- ensure a full 180-day school year;
- maintain current funding for all-day kindergarten;
- include important reforms and increased accountability; and
- spend $580 million more on K-12 education than the governor – without raising taxes.
Our proposal would dedicate $13.66 billion to K-12 education, which would represent a $46 million reduction in this two-year budget cycle. While there are many worthy programs in our K-12 education system, unfortunately some of them fall outside of the definition of basic education and, therefore, lower on our priority list. To reduce state spending, we would eliminate nearly all non-basic education programs, freeze K-12 salary step increases and preserve the annual bonus for National Board Certification at a reduced amount. These were tough decisions, but fiscally-responsible ones that would lead to budget sustainability.
You can see a non-partisan comparison of our proposal for K-12 education next to the governor's by clicking here.
Step 3: Balanced budget proposal that does not raise taxes
With Fund Education First legislation step one and a K-12 education budget proposal step two, step three is a full operating budget proposal that does not rely on any tax increases. House Republicans unveiled the first such proposal of the legislative session last Friday. In a news conference, which can be found here, we talked about setting priorities, rejecting major tax increases, reforming state government, and bringing sustainability to our budget.
Our proposal would prioritize K-12 education, public safety and protecting the most vulnerable – which we define as those with developmental disabilities, the elderly who rely on long-term care, folks with mental health challenges, and children. We would fully fund critical access hospitals, and maintain funding for regional support networks, adult day care and employment programs for the developmentally disabled. We would also ensure convicted criminals stay in prison and community supervision of those released would not be compromised. Our plan would also provide new funding for gang violence prevention and safety initiatives in our corrections community.
Setting priorities also means determining what our state should not be providing in the future. Our proposal would reform state government by eliminating 51 state programs. We would also leave $625 million in reserves in case there is another economic downturn. Here are some other details of our plan:
- $67 million in fund transfers;
- $26 million in the sale of surplus property;
- $817 million in overall spending reductions;
- $64 million in local government distributions;
- $335 million in savings from reduced caseloads;
- $36 million from repealing three tax exemptions; and
- $160 million in unspent agency funds (reversions).
We firmly believe the budget can, and must, be balanced with existing tax revenues. You can learn more about our full
operating budget proposal here and compare it to the House Democratic version here. I encourage you to compare and contrast. As always, I welcome your feedback.
Staying in touch
A special thanks to all of you who participated in my telephone town hall meeting on February 7. More than 3,480 local residents joined the community conversation sometime during the one-hour event. I was able to answer 19 questions on a wide range of topics and follow up with 16 people who left voicemail messages. It was a great exchange of ideas and our citizen Legislature at its best.