Only Rep. Marko Liias, a Democrat from Mukilteo, crossed party lines to join the minority Republicans, who voted as a block against House Bill 1087 The measure goes to the Senate which is expected to put out a bipartisan budget Tuesday evening after the next bill cutoff. Full details are here.
Many Democrats like Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia voted reluctantly in favor. Hunt's 22nd district constituents are among the 1,619 who would lose jobs with the cuts-heavy spending plan, which also pares K-12 school allocations, slashes higher education funding and makes other cuts he didn't like.
"I sort of feel like Marty Feldman, in 'Young Frankenstein,' " Hunt said. "I helped create the monster so I had to vote for it – being on the (budget) committee and not really having an alternative."
Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County would disagree with Hunt. Alexander, the top GOP voice on the budget, offered a full budget alternative in committee that would have cut about 490 fewer jobs than the Democrats did, mainly by putting more money into public safety programs at the Department of Corrections. His budget did what few minority caucuses have done: It showed how the budget could be balanced in another way and in detail.
But to do that, Alexander had to eliminate the state subsidy for low-income workers on the Basic Health Plan and kill off most of the Disability Lifeline. He also proposed to cut children's health coverage for those who can't prove their legal residency and make deeper cuts to higher education. (Here is a comparison.)
All of that was unacceptable to Hunt.
Other Democrats voting yes were Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater; Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton; Rep. Fred Finn of west Thurston County; and all of Pierce County's Democratic lawmakers – including Tami Green and Troy Kelley of Lakewood; Jeannie Darneille, Laurie Jinkins, Connie Ladenburg, and Steve Kirby, all of Tacoma; Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor; and Chris Hurst of Enumclaw.
Reykdal, a freshman from Tumwater, said Friday he was undecided, but then he learned House Democratic leaders were committed to debating revenue options next week. He said he and Jinkins, the prime sponsor, are among 11 first-year lawmakers who are first sponsors of a "modest" revenue bill that they plan to roll out early in the week to close tax exemptions. He declined to give details.
In voting against, Liias spoke on the floor about real people in his district who would be hurt by the spending cuts. He said he wants lawmakers to look at the revenue side of the equation. "We can do better and we should," he said.
Among Republicans, Alexander was joined by House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis in the 20th distict; J.T. Wilcox of Yelm and Jim McCune of Graham in the 2nd; Jan Angel of Port Orchard; Bruce Dammeier and Hans Zeiger of Puyallup; and others.
Republicans bragged on the House floor that their budget made less severe cuts to education, which some said should be the first priority. But House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, complained after the floor speeches that Republicans were showing "hypocrisy" because their budget alternative only had $10 million more than the Democrats for K-12 schools and slashed even more than the $482 million that Democrats cut from college allotments.
But Dammeier said the GOP wanted to put more money into elements of K-12 reform, including lower grades, which lawmakers passed in past sessions. He said Democrats failed to abolish programs like the state printer, or Disability Lifeline.
But Rep. Ross Hunter, the Medina Democrat and lead budget author, said it still includes an agency consolidation that merges General Administration and other functions into a new Enterprises Services agency. He said a natural-resources consolidation looks unlikely and is not counted on, and neither is an education agencies consolidation that still could happen.
In speeches that were replays of old complaints heard many times in recent years, Republicans said Democrats were continuing to spend too much and they blamed overspending for the $5.3 billion shortfall. Alexander also ripped into the assumption the state could earn $300 million by leasing out the operation of its liquor distribution system to a private party.
But Democrats said the situation was just the opposite – tax burdens are falling as a percentage of individual incomes statewide. Sullivan said a nationwide economic crisis caused the fiscal problem and that states around the country were slashing spending like Washington is doing.
Rep. Ross Hunter was able to secure 53 votes in a caucus that would, like Liias and Reykdal, prefer more revenue. Hunter said the plan is responsible and sustainable and similar to Republican Alexander’s plan in 80 percent or more of its aspects.
He also said that the cuts are needed, despite the state expecting $4 billion more in state revenue than two years ago. That is because the federal government had helped the state through two biennia with about $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Once that federal spending is included, he said the new two-year budget this time is actually smaller than the one covering the period that ends June 30.
It also shifts more money from other accounts into the general fund than Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed, according to Alexander.
But, Hunter said, it spends less than the state expects to bring in.