There are big differences between the state House and Senate plans for short-term budget cuts.
The House would cut more from K-12 schools. The Senate would take more from universities. The House would end subsidized health insurance for poor adults. The Senate would end cash grants to out-of-work disabled people.
But the biggest difference might be the lineup of supporters.
The House approved its version in January with all Republicans voting no. Senate budget writers announced Wednesday that they have reached a bipartisan deal.
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“I’m just trying to be a good soldier and work hard in a bipartisan way to move this thing in the right direction,” Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli told reporters, “and to that point I hope that we’ve been influential in prodding (Democrats) to do some things that maybe they wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
Indeed, some of the cuts bother Senate budget Chairman Ed Murray, a Democrat, notably eliminating the monthly $258 Disability Lifeline cash grants and slashing funding for financial aid to college students, which universities will have to make up by tapping their tuition revenue.
“I’m not sure I would have cut cash (grants) if it had been a Democratic proposal,” Murray told reporters. “I’m not sure that we would have cut the state need grant if it had been a Democratic proposal. But there was a lot of give and take.”
Democratic budget writers negotiated with Republican Sens. Zarelli of Ridgefield and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville on the plan to bridge the funding shortfall through June. It would make $254 million in cuts and $140 million in transfers of money.
The plan could be approved by the Senate as soon as Friday, setting up final negotiations with the House and Gov. Chris Gregoire. House Speaker Frank Chopp is sure to push to save a favorite program, Disability Lifeline. Gregoire called for ending it, while the Senate would stop the cash grants that go to childless adults and keep the program’s medical aid.
Senate leaders will try in negotiations to preserve the Basic Health Plan, which subsidizes insurance for about 54,000 people.
The Senate plan calls for keeping Basic Health but cutting some 13,000 people off the rolls, including illegal immigrants. To help avoid further cuts, senators would grab $6 million from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies, an amount that otherwise would go to grants for research in the life sciences.
The House and Gregoire called for ending state funding for Basic Health, though House members hope to find a way to harness federal funding to keep it alive until Congress’s health care reform kicks in, in 2014.
The Senate would take a smaller bite out of school districts’ budgets, after districts complained the retroactive cuts to the 2010-11 school year would be devastating. But senators would do something similar to higher education.
They can’t directly cut college budgets because of strings on federal money that prevent the reduction of state funding beyond a certain level.
But a $25 million cut the Senate would make to the State Need Grant will essentially work as if it were a cut to colleges’ budgets. Ben Henry, who represents graduate students at the University of Washington, told lawmakers the cut would violate the federal requirements.
“Students are taking on a substantial portion of these budget cuts,” Henry said. The spending proposals “would put the UW back to ’87-’89 funding levels.”
Murray said he expects the handshake budget deal means a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans would vote in favor of the budget, but he doesn’t know if the GOP sees it the same way. Zarelli said some Republicans will support it.
The plan would produce $30 million more in savings than the House found, but still leave more than $200 million to deal with in the budget period that ends in June.
To deal with the rest, Zarelli said lawmakers would be forced to rely on a budget gimmick proposed by Gregoire that involves shifting school funding to the next budget period – which already has a $4.6 billion shortfall of its own.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Brad Shannon contributed to this report.