House budget writers amended a mandatory furlough bill for state employees, passing the $50 million savings measure out of the Ways and Means Committee on a partisan vote of 12-to-10 early Monday evening.
Senate Bill 6503 exempts many agencies’ personnel who work in emergency services, prisons, public safety, college classrooms and in revenue-generating activities. And as passed by the Senate two weeks ago, it would have saved $69 million with 13 furlough days through June 2011.
The House plan cut the days off without pay to 11. Republicans, who have complained Democrats are not cutting enough, opposed the bill, arguing they need to see more of the overall Democratic plan for bridging a $2.2 billion budget gap before enacting this kind of cut.
“Today we vote on a piece of a puzzle and we don’t even know what the picture looks like,” explained Republican Rep. Skip Priest of Federal Way. Priest drew a contrast to 2003 when, he contended, lawmakers put together a plan for improving the economy, cutting spending and also raising gas taxes in a coordinated effort.
But Rep. Kelli Linville, the Bellingham Democrat who leads Ways and Means, disagreed.
“We do have a plan for how to balance our budget. And we do know the magnitude of the problem,” Linville said. “We know this is one small step toward a solution.’’
Some pro-labor Democrats, such as Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney of Seattle, joined the majority in favor of the bill, but reluctantly. “We talk about protecting our most vulnerable and services, and yet we are not putting forth the caring for those who provide those services for the vulnerable,’’ Kenney said.
Republican Rep. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup said lawmakers had failed to restructure government and make other changes to taxpayer costs, and suggested the furloughs were yet another “one-time” step that didn’t go far enough to shave costs.
The Washington Federation of State Employees has been fighting the furloughs, which are just one area where state budget cuts are hitting the 40,000 workers represented by the union. Workers are receiving no cost-of-living pay raises and also saw health care costs go up this year.