Politics & Government

U.S. Senate vote may ease state budget crisis

WASHINGTON - Washington state would receive nearly $530 million in funding for Medicaid and to pay the salaries of 3,000 teachers who faced the pink slip under a bill the Senate cleared for final passage with a critical procedural vote today.

The funding could allow Washington to avoid a special session of the state Legislature which faced the prospect of imposing across the board cuts including layoffs and cuts in health care and other state services, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash said.

Murray had introduced the legislation which provided $16.1 billion to help states pay for the added cost of Medicaid as more low income people seek medical help because of the recession. It also includes $10 billion to continue school funding begun under an earlier stimulus package.

Washington state would get $320 million for Medicaid and $208 million in school aid.

The Senate today voted 61-38 to end debate on the measure and a final vote is expected Thursday. While 60 votes were needed to cut off debate, for final passage the bill needs only a simple majority.

The House has not approved similar legislation and has recessed until September.

Murray said the legislation will allow Washington state to "avoid layoffs, service cuts or tax increases and it will make sure our children don't walk through the school house doors this September to larger classes and fewer subjects."

Murray had overcome some Republican objections by paying for the bill with unspent federal money. Even so, Republicans attacked the measure saying it would lead to permanent "bailouts" for states facing budget problems and was a "brazen attempt" to bolster public employee unions.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement the measure will help the state avoid "drastic" cuts.

"Such actions would have been devastating to Washington state by slowing our recovery and potentially pushing us toward a double dip recession," the governor said.