Senate Democrats just rolled out their supplemental budget proposal that reduces the state's short-term deficit by just $30 million more than a version approved by House Democrats. The big surprise: Republican Sen. Joseph Zarelli of Ridgefield expects some GOP members to vote for it, because "its positive movement in the right direction."
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he negotiated the agreement with Zarelli and Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ridgefield, shaking hands on the tentative deal reached Tuesday. It bridges about $394 million of the estimated $600 million gap still remaining. It makes $254 million in actual spending cuts, shifts funds and makes other moves to capture money from agencies.
Here is a big-picture summary of Murray and Zarelli's amended version of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1086. Here is a link to agency by agency details. Here is the budget bill, which is being heard this late afternoon in the Senate Ways and Means Committee that Murray chairs.
A vote on the measure could come soon, according to Murray, who is eager to finish the supplemental budget and start work on the budget period that begins July 1. Both he and Zarelli said they expect to get votes from each party's caucus, though neither pledged a majority of members.
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Key pieces in the measure are preservation of a scaled-back Basic Health Plan, which the House voted to eliminate after May 1 if new funds did not materialize. Senate Democrats said their plan would serve freeze enrollment and reduce coverage to about 41,000 of the roughly 54,200 people now enrolled on the subsidized insurance program for low-income workers. UPDATE: Fixes the number of enrollees.
The agreement also calls for yearly "status" checks of participants to verify they are legal residents as well as twice a year checks on income eligibility. But Zarelli said he was unable to get those conditions (and other "reforms") into the budget bill and they need to be put into bills that would be approved separately.
Murray said the biggest differences between the House and Senate versions is the Senate decision to keep Basic Health alive until the program can be aided by federal health reform dollars. He said it makes smaller cuts to children’s health by reducing eligibility to families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, down from the 300 percent that has been authorized by past legislatures.
The Senate requires smaller retroactive cuts to public schools than the House made for class-size reductions in the lower grades. [UPDATED to correct misstatement on the Senate and retroactive school cuts.] on action But it cuts more from higher education than the House.
Also, the Senate cuts $18.5 million in cash assistance from the Disability Lifeline program (formerly General Assistance-Unemployed) that provides medical care to disabled people who are temporarily unable to work. That program is sacred to House Speaker Frank Chopp, just as Basic Health is important to Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown.
But Murray said the goal was to keep the structure for critical social services intact past June – rather than eliminate any one.
The budget proposal doesn't do all that Zarelli and his GOP colleagues wanted. Zarelli said it does not close the entire remaining $600 million gap left after last December’s special session and that the majority Democrats waited too long to bridge that gap with cuts alone.
As a result, the Legislature must shift money from different funds to cover general-fund costs and also postpone June payments for K-12 schools by one day, to July 1. Gov. Chris Gregoire had proposed the so-called 25th month approach on school funding. Zarelli said there is no other option now.
“I’m just trying to be a good soldier and work hard in a bipartisan way to move this thing in the right direction, and to that point I hope that we’ve been influential in prodding them to do some things that maybe they wouldn’t have done otherwise,” Zarelli told reporters.
Murray said he is in a hurry to pass the supplemental budget and move on to the larger $4 billion-plus problem for the next biennium that starts July 1.
Our news partner Jordan Schrader at The News Tribune is writing a story for tomorrow’s print editions.