by David Ammons | April 4th, 2011
Majority House Democrats have unveiled a $32.4 billion state budget that incorporates $3.2 billion in assorted cuts, a 3 percent salary reduction and higher medical contributions for public employees, pension reforms, and more.
The no-new-taxes budget for the next two years was the first draft to surface in the Legislature since a new revenue forecast knocked another $800 million hole in the budget last month, bringing the total gap to over $5 billion. Tax collections have lagged as the state and national recovery struggles to take hold.
House budget Chairman Ross Hunter and other House Democratic leaders briefed reporters on the new plan, which was scheduled for a public hearing later in the day and action by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. The full House may vote by week’s end, and soon the Senate is expected to come up with its counterproposal. In the House, minority Republicans are producing an alternative budget; in the Senate, Republicans are at the table.
The House plan freezes voter-approved initiatives for teacher pay and class-size reduction, cuts $482 million from higher education, cuts public employee pay by $177 million, eliminates K-4 class-size appropriations to save $216 million, trims the Basic Health Plan by $108 million and the Disability Lifeline program by $100 million, and saves $362 million from automatic pension COLAs for some older retirees.
The budget proposal would cut the Office of Secretary of State by about $15 million, including cuts of 22 percent at the State Library and the Legacy Project, and saving $10 million by suspending the 2012 presidential primary. Secretary of State Sam Reed and Gov. Chris Gregoire jointly requested the primary cut, given the dire straits of the budget.
Reed will resist the deep Library and Legacy Project cuts. The budget does not contemplate removing the Library and Legacy Project from the Office of Secretary of State, as a separate bill had proposed.
But the budget does sweep up the funds that the Legislature previously authorized for construction of a new Heritage Center for the Capitol Campus, to house the Library and State Archives and to provide an education and visitor center and historical exhibits.
House Democrats also proposed a state construction budget that uses $1.6 billion in new bonds. A separate transportation budget was approved earlier and awaits action in the Senate.