House Republicans Wednesday released their alternative to the Democratic majority's budget proposal.
The Republican plan would slash $4.7 billion in spending over the next two years, in part by eliminating state contributions to Washington’s health care program for the poor and most of a program that aids disabled adults.
GOP leaders say their proposal is both more sustainable and responsible than the budget unveiled Monday by House Democrats. The Republicans say their plan protects three priority areas: K-12 education, public safety and vulnerable populations – such as the developmentally disabled.
Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the GOP’s lead budget negotiator, said his goal was to create a plan that would let lawmakers return to their districts and “hold our heads up high.”
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The Republican plan was introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee as an amendment to the Democrats’ proposal. Republican Leader Richard DeBolt said that even if his party’s plan ultimately was rejected, he hoped to see some of its components reflected in the state Senate’s forthcoming budget proposal.
Democratic House leaders hope to vote on their budget this week and think they have the 50 votes needed to approve it.
Lawmakers are struggling to balance an estimated $5 billion spending deficit for the 2011-13 budget before the end of the legislative session April 24.
“One-party control has stifled the voices of citizens and the consideration of new ideas,” said DeBolt, of Chehalis. “Whether it’s the budget, the economy or other important issues, we want people to know there are alternative solutions on the table in Olympia.”
Republicans propose ending state subsidies to the Basic Health Plan, a program for the poor, and all but a small portion of Disability Lifeline, which aids disabled adults.
The only part of the program that would be spared is a service that helps people with long-term disabilities transition to a federally funded assistance program.
Gov. Chris Gregoire had proposed cutting the Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline in her December budget.
For their part, Democrats – whose plan includes $4.4 billion in cuts – had preserved funding to both programs by opting to privatize wholesale liquor distribution. Under that plan, the state would establish a competitive bidding process and the winner would pay $300 million up front, followed by annual payments and profit-sharing over the course of the 20-year deal. Republicans reject the privatization strategy, calling it a gimmick that would cost the state future revenue in exchange for a short-term fiscal gain.
Democratic leaders in the House were not available to comment on the Republicans’ proposal Wednesday afternoon.
The two plans contain many similarities – the result of a budget negotiation process that was more collaborative than in past years, said Republican Rep. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup.
“We brought items to the table and they adopted them, and they brought items to the table and we adopted them,” said Dammeier of his Democratic colleagues.
Like the Democrats, Republican lawmakers proposed deep cuts to higher education. The GOP plan calls for $482 million in reductions. Budget writers made those cuts with the expectation that tuition will increase at least 13 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University, and 11 percent at smaller colleges and community colleges.
Both proposals also opt not to fund two education initiatives that increase teacher pay and reduce classroom sizes. That decision saves an estimated $1.2 billion.