Republican Rep. Gary Alexander plans to lay out more details late Wednesday morning, but he's about to deliver on a budget promise. He is offering an alternative proposal to what House Democrats rolled out Monday to bridge a $5.1 billion to $5.3 billion state budget gap through June 2013.
Alexander's proposal kills off the state Basic Health Plan, which gives subsidized health insurance to the working poor. Democrats proposed keeping it for 44,000 participants as a bridge to federal health reform in January 2014. Alexander said he also does away with most of the controversial Disability Lifeline, which House Speaker Frank Chopp is staunchly opposed to doing.
Alexander intends to offer his proposal as an amendment to House Bill 1087 when it comes up for a House Ways and Means Committee vote after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"Our budget is – from our standpoint –sustainable. It does not rely on one-time monies to fund ongoing programs, including the $300 million from the liquor distribution (proposal Democrats counted on)," Alexander said early this evening in the House wings between floor votes. "We basically place more emphasis and support on K-12 and public safety than the House Democrats' budget."
The liquor item he mentioned is a proposal to lease out operation of the state’s liquor warehouse operation to a private firm in exchange for $300 million cash. House Ways and Means chairman Ross Hunter included in his budget plan, House Bill 1087.
Alexander said he avoids fund shifts, raids of capital budget accounts, leaves close to $850 million in reserves and spends about the same as Democrats propose on higher education. He wipes out a portion of the Disability Lifeline, which provides health care and would give housing vouchers instead of cash grants to temporarily disabled people.
But the Republicans propose to keep what is known as the General Assistance or "GA-X" portion of the Disability Lifeline that helps eligible disabled people while they wait to qualify for the federal Social Security benefits. Alexander said his proposal reinforces this piece of the lifeline.
On children's health, Democrats retained coverage for 600,000 children in the Apple Health program and another 25,000 in the children's health. Unlike Democrats, Republicans make ineligible those children whose families cannot document their legal residency. [UPDATED to correct the description of Democrats' plan, which only requires proof of legal residency for children's health participants from families with incomes above 200 percent of the poverty line.]
"Our first call in tough times is to support the people who are legal citizens in our state and our country, and that's what we do. We basically make an effort to move those people to become citizens; if they don't then no, we phase out the program," Alexander said. Asked about similarities to Hunter's proposal, Alexander said he makes a quicker transition to not covering non-citizens.
Alexander did not give details for how he spends differently in public schools or public safety. And he did not say if he has fees or tax increases in his measure – which Hunter's budget bill does have (Democrats count on fees from a state parks and wildlife pass meant to replace general fund support of parks; they also count on a "safety net" fee for nursing home providers that some consider a tax).
But the GOP proposes spending "about the same" as Democrats on higher education; House Democrats propose to cut close to $500 million from universities and community colleges and replace a portion of that with higher tuition rates of 11 to 13 percent.
The Republicans also do not shift $240 million in per-pupil payments to K-12 public schools from June to July 1 as a way to balance the supplemental budget. House Democrats and Gov. Chris Gregoire used that maneuver.
"We basically didn't use any kind of gimmicks. We wanted our budget to be balanced under the revenue we have now," Alexander said.
He said the three changes – to Basic Health, Disability Lifeline and health care for children – "make about a half-billion dollars difference between their budget and ours, and that's about where we are" on the bottom line. "I believe we have a good budget, a budget that is true to our principles We try to work together and minimize our differences (with Democrats). But we have to stick to our principles," Alexander said.
Those principles, by the way, total 13. They include a budget that is:
Democrats enjoy a 55-42 advantage in the House as a whole so they have more members on the Ways and Means Committee. That means outcome may be preordained. But game's on at 3:30.