House Republicans released an alternative budget-cutting plan Friday that closes $362 million of the state's remaining budget deficit of about $600 million through June. That's only $15.7 million more than Democrats offered this week in their "early action" plan.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire wants both the House and Senate to pass cuts by Feb. 8.
But both parties' plans are closer to bridging what had been a more than $1.1 billion deficit through June, which is still just a preamble to the more than $4 billion shortfall for the budget period starting July 1. Lawmakers closed about $588 million of the short-term deficit during their one-day special session last month, and the House Democrats' plan headed to a floor vote on Monday closes the gap by $346 million more.
Even if it still leaves a nearly $240 million hole, the GOP's alternative goes farther than the minority party has been willing to go recently to identify ways to balance the budget. Alexander, a Thurston County Republican, said his proposal avoids some of the fund transfers and retroactive cuts to public schools that he found in the proposal from House Ways and Means chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina.
Alexander is offering his party's plan in the form of a floor amendment to Hunter's supplemental budget bill, HB 1086, Monday. Democrats have a 56-42 advantage so it's likely their version survives, but Republicans are hoping for crossover votes.
Here are some key differences in the R and D plans (a detailed comparison is here) :
* Republicans close their gap with cuts of $251.3 million ($29 million more than Democrats cut) and $110.4 million in fund transfers. The Democrats use $222 million in spending cuts and transfers of $123.8 million from other accounts.
* Republicans completely eliminate the Disability Lifeline, which provides medical and other aid to persons who become temporarily disabled and lack other options. That saves $23 million and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, has been steadfast against that. UPDATE: A budget staffer points out that it actually saves another $20.3 million by eliminating cash grants for $43.4 million in savings.
* The GOP also eliminates the Basic Health Plan's subsidized insurance coverage to 60,000 people in March. Democrats use federal money to extend coverage until May 1 but cut $19 million. The GOP cuts $7.8 million more than that.
* Republicans eliminate all-day kindergarten funding to save $11.7 million. Democrats keep the funding for the fraction of public schools that get this aid.
* But Democrats cut $42 million in class-size assistance to school classrooms in the K-4 grades that Republicans retain. UPDATE: Original post reversed it.
* Republicans avoid a $17 million raid on the state toxics cleanup fund that Democrats make and also avoid a $550,000 transfer from fair-fund accounts. They also don't transfer $855,000 from two tourism accounts.
"We won't be supporting the Democrat version," Alexander said.
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt told reporters earlier in the week he wasn¡¦t actively courting Democrats but said his side has met with Democrats "who are looking for opportunities to vote with the citizens of Washington" to cut spending.
"We'll get at least 42 (votes). I don't know how many more," Alexander said. "The governor said what about bipartisanship? We are much more aligned with the governor on bipartisanship than this particular Democrat version."
Alexander said his plan doesn't make "retroactive reductions" from school allocations and also does not copy Democrats' move to delay until July 1 the $23 million payment scheduled for special education.
He said that his caucus overall wants to make more reductions in human services than Democrats with exceptions for mental health, developmental disabilities and long-term care. He said they make fewer cuts in education.
Democrats were criticized for not closing the whole deficit in their proposal, and Alexander conceded his side didn't get there either. His explanation: He wants to wait for the next caseload forecast due in March to see how much the costs really are.
This should be an interesting floor fight.
UPDATED to correct some budget figures as well as typos, coding glitches and so forth.