After a session that stretched nearly from New Years to Memorial Day, Washington state legislators finally reached a budget deal just hours before their special session expired at midnight May 25.
The budget, which closed a $5 billion shortfall, included cuts to teachers’ pay, higher education and state health programs for the poor. It awaits Gov. Christine Gregoire’s signature.
“This is a tough budget climate and we had to make a lot of cuts in order to have a balanced budget, which is not only required by law but important for our fiscal responsibility,” Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said.
Van De Wege said revenue projections in June could be lower than expected, leading to another gap, but the Legislature left a large enough funding balance to cover it.
Other than $10 million to sewer facility projects in Port Hadlock and Carlsborg and a few other capital budget projects, “There were no wins for me,” he said.
Carlsborg receives sewer funding
Two $10 million low-interest loans were approved to fund wastewater construction projects in Port Hadlock and Carlsborg, which Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, said will provide a major economic boost to the area.
“The Carlsborg project alone sustains 1,100 jobs,” Tharinger said. “The state provides $10 million through the Public Works Trust Fund, but over the life of the loan it is expected to generate $440 million in economic activity. That’s a great return on investment.”
Van De Wege said even though there were lots of cuts to education, he feels the Legislature was able to stop other cuts that would have been more hurtful in the long term.
Teachers, including Van De Wege’s wife, who is a teacher at Sequim High School, face a 1.9 percent salary decrease while other K-12 employees could see a 3 percent cut in pay, saving the state $179 million over the next two years.
Van De Wege said he thinks schools may decide to lay off teachers rather than open their contracts to implement a salary cut.
More than $500 million in cuts to higher education institutions will be offset by sharp tuition increases, including 16 percent at the University of Washington, for each of the next two years.
In a move to save $344 million, some retired teachers and public employees will not longer get an automatic cost-of-living pension increase. The state will save $177 million by implementing unpaid leave for state workers, resulting in a 3 percent decrease in pay.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said his main budget priority was to prevent the dismantling of the public safety system.
“We did that by preserving the key elements of our strategy to reduce the crime rate, reduce recidivism and to keep people from ever entering the system in the first place,” said Hargrove, Senate chairman of the Human Services and Corrections Committee.
The operating budget provides $1 million for the expansion of juvenile offender treatment and expands housing vouchers for recently released offenders by $844,000. Another $5 million will go toward body armor, proximity cards and upgrades in radio communications to enhance the safety of correctional officers.
There were cuts made including a $1.4 million reduction in prison-based treatment and the reduction and restructuring of the Family Policy Council.