UPDATE: Senate approves 'bipartisan' budget

The OlympianApril 18, 2011 

One senator rose to say he was unsure it could be done. Another called it the first truly bipartisan budget "ever," comparing it half-seriously to the first moon walk.

Whatever its place in history, the state Senate voted 34-13 early this evening with nine Republicans joining majority Democrats to approve Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1087. The vote sends it back to the Democrat-controlled House for negotiations in a special session yet to be scheduled.

In the end, Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield and Democratic Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle were able to work together – with support of their leaders. (Go here for details on the rival Senate and House budgets.)

The yes votes included 25 of the Senate's 27 Democrats and nine of the chamber’s 22 Republicans. The two Democrats opposed were Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch and Sen. Maralyn Chase of Shoreline. Eleven Republicans voted against it, even though Republicans played a big role in writing the budget.

Among South Sound lawmakers, the yes votes included Democrats Karen Fraser of Thurston County, Steve Conway of Tacoma, Jim Kastama of Puyallup, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, Debbie Regala of Tacoma, and Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island. Local Republicans voting yes were Randi Becker of Eatonville and Dan Swecker of Rochester.

The local no votes included Democrat Sheldon and Republicans Mike Carrell of Lakewood and Pam Roach of Auburn.

The compromise bill is at odds with the House Democrats' partisan version of the budget. The Senate added 3 percent pay cuts for public school teachers, provided less family-planning funding than the House, and made other moves that Senate Democrats might not have backed if they wrote the measure alone.

The Senate plan also proposes to put the State Motor Pool operations out to private hands and asks high-paid state employees to take up to eight extra unpaid days off. But both versions reduce the footprint of state government, cutting state employees off the payroll. UPDATED AND CLARIFIED: The cuts total 1,359 full-time equivalent jobs in the House and 1,529 FTEs in the Senate – when compared to the Office of Financial Management's report of 108,293 full-time equivalent workers on the payroll in general government, transportation and higher education agencies in January.

UPDATED AND CLARIFIED: Both chambers' bills also reduce funding for public schools – if one counts the suspension of more than $1 billion for cost-of-living pay increases or class size reduction funding that are temporarily suspended for the second biennium in a row. Because those allocations were also cut in the past biennium, the actual year-over-year allocation to K-12 programs is up by about $378 million in the Senate plan or $251 per pupil, according to Senate Republicans. The Senate plan does put back about $64.3 million to restore lower class sizes for K-3 grades.

The House and Senate bills also limit funding for all-day kindergarten, deeply cut into higher education and jack up tuition by up to 16 percent in the Senate and 13 percent in the House.

Overall, the Senate cuts $4.8 billion compared to $4.4 billion in the House (if one includes the suspended extra payments for class-size improvements) and goes further in cuts to higher education. The latter cuts are why Maple Valley Republican Cheryl Pflug said last week she would oppose it, although she wasn't ready to say where she would cut instead.

A special session will be called to start sometime after the regular 105-day session is over Sunday, and lawmakers in the House and Senate face a steep challenge to agree on a single plan that Gov. Chris Gregoire can vote into law.

But superlatives are flying for now.

"The Senate has come together to do something historic. It is a big deal," said Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, who compared it to the kind of front-page news given to the first human walk on the moon or the first swim across the English Channel.

Hargrove asserted it was the first truly bipartisan operating budget "ever" passed – distinguishing it from the typical bipartisanship that sees a few lawmakers of the minority party crossing over to join the majority party in passing a budget bill.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said that when a bipartisan budget approach was first hatched in December he gave it a 25 percent change of success.

In the end, Zarelli and Murray were able to work together – with support of their caucus leaders.

"I know that both of you received so much anger and hate directed at you from your own parties" outside the Legislature, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, told Murray and Zarelli. Hobbs is a self-described “road kill” caucus member who hugs the political middle road and is part of a small group of senators who consider themselves swing votes.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said it was not a budget that reflected her district’s priorities. She warned that with cuts it would present risks to public safety.

But she supported it and said it preserves "aspects of the social safety net" rather than eliminating it and “did not pull the rug out from under” the most vulnerable. Brown, typically a progressive and defender of the poor, also said she was pleased to work with Zarelli on retaining child-care help for some working families that receive state welfare aid for the benefit of the families and the children.

In the end, Brown said she “would prefer a budget that has more revenue” and a state where voters supported that. “I don’t think we are there yet,” Brown said. “I think the people of the state of Washington will get there.’’

In other words, Democrats' talk of raising revenues – by closing tax exemptions or putting the question to voters – is not yet dead.

UPDATE on original 6:38 p.m. April 18 post: Corrects references to the nature of the Senate's cuts in K-12 education and adds OFM's estimates of state government staffing to the staffing comparisons between the Senate and House budgets.

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