The vote this morning was 38-9 to approve the bipartisan Senate version of the supplemental budget. It reduces about $394 million of the roughly $600 million deficit the state faces through June 30.
Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch and Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina were the lone Democrats to vote against Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1086, which otherwise received a strong bipartisan vote that included 14 Republicans and 24 Democrats in favor. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane was excused as the tended to her son's possible involvement in a car crash.
Seven Republicans voted against the budget, including Sen. Roach of Auburn. Among Thurston and Pierce county lawmakers, Republican Sens. Randi Becker of Eatonville, Dan Swecker of Rochester and Mike Carrell of Lakewood voted for it, as did Democratic Sens. Karen Fraser of Thurston County, Steve Conway of Tacoma, Jim Kastama of Puyallup, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Debbie Regala of Tacoma.
Sheldon, a longtime maverick who rarely votes for budget bills, said he voted against this one because he objects to retroactive cuts in class-size reduction money for public schools, which are smaller in the Senate than in the House’s earlier version. Sheldon also said state agencies should take deeper cuts.
The measure now goes to the House for a confirmation vote, or negotiations between the Senate and House budget writers. A House version of the bill had passed without Republican support previously, and it remains a question whether the spirit of bipartisanship can survive the more divisive tone in that chamber.
Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County as the House GOP's top budget writer, and he was still reviewing the bill. He said he already has qualms about the Senate’s retroactive cuts to K-4 public schools. He also said that he questions whether 3 percent pay cuts for about 16,200 non-represented, or non-union, state workers in April might cost more to accomplish than by waiting to July 1, when Gov. Chris Gregoire hopes to cut pay and hours by 3 percent for most state employees.
Gregoire's budget director, Marty Brown, said costs for changing computers to speed up payroll cuts would be about $5 million, more than the predicted payroll savings of $3.4 million in the general fund. Senate Ways and Means chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said total savings would be $8 million if all state funds are counted, and he thinks it’s important to ask workers to sacrifice when critical programs also are being trimmed.
UPDATE: OFM now says the cost for upgrading the computers is uncertain, but the proposal is unworkable on such a short timeframe anyway.
Alexander also said he doubts the payroll changes can even be made that quickly.
And he still believes that in the later two-year budget that follows this 2011 supplemental budget, lawmakers will have to eliminate the Basic Health Plan for low-income workers and the Disability Lifeline for disabled people temporarily unable to work and without other resources. There is a $4 billion to $5 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle.
Those programs also are among the thorny differences between the House and Senate budgets. The Senate version of ESHB 1086 preserves the BHP at a scaled back level through June, and it eliminates cash grants in the Disability Lifeline while retaining medical care for lifeline participants. The House Democrats approved a version of the supplemental budget that spares the Disability Lifeline and phases out BHP in May unless private money is found for it.
Alexander said he is setting up meetings early next week with the Senate budget leads, including Sen. Murray and Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield. The two lawmakers hammered out the bipartisan budget agreement earlier in the week.
Today's Senate roll call vote is here.