Politics & Government

State budget cuts pass House committee, 18-0

The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously this morning to approve an emergency budget-cutting measure that aims to shave $588 million from the state’s $1.1. billion deficit through June.

The vote came quickly after a relatively short public hearing this morning. It drew testimony critical of cuts to community health clinics, cuts to K-4 school class-size funding, welfare reductions and other concerns with shifting federal money meant to go straight to classrooms.

But all 18 members of the committee on both sides of the partisan aisle voted for House Bill 3225. Details on the cuts are here.

Rep. Gary Alexander, the Thurston County Republican who is the House GOP’s top voice on budget matters, told colleagues the bipartisan agreement “shows the benefit of having a collaborative effort” on the budget. He was referring to the agreement reached Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire and House and Senate leaders from both parties on the cuts.

"It is only a first step. We have much more to do. Our work is still cut out for us," Alexander said before the vote.

Majority Democrats on the committee have said the state has little choice but to make tough decisions on cuts.

Two members of the committee were excused or absent – including Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia who is vacationing in Mexico. Hunt said this week his plans were laid long ago and it was costly to cancel the plan or return early.

The session is expected to draw a bipartisan vote in both chambers to approve the cuts. The Senate was hearing companion bills this morning in its budget committee, and floor votes are expected later in the day in both chambers with a goal of finishing work sometime tonight.

Gregoire is independently moving ahead on across-the-board cuts now estimated to be worth $140 million in addition to what the House and Senate are cutting today. That would bring total cuts to somewhere around $730 million through June.

The Democratic governor's full supplemental budget proposal to cover the remainder of the $1.1 billion short-term deficit is expected late next week.

But first Gregoire is rolling out her new two-year budget plan for 2011-13 on Wednesday. It must come to grips with a shortfall of about $5 billion.