Likening the final 2013-2015 state budget deal to a tied score baseball game in the bottom of the ninth inning, Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee was philosophical about the inevitable compromises on new taxes and transportation funding. But, he said, he’s ready to work with it.
“We didn’t hit a home run, but we hit a solid double,” Inslee told reporters at a post budget-signing press conference in downtown Seattle Tuesday.
Off the table are catastrophic cuts to social services and help for the disabled that threatened to devastate the poor and needy in Washington throughout the early budget negotiation process.
Inslee said it “spared and in some cases, enhanced” critical social services for low-income residents, and extended healthcare to 300,000 citizens, while sometimes preserving and otherwise ending tax relief to businesses.
Jewish communal leaders and aid agencies are also breathing a bit easier now since the late-breaking forecast from Washington’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council found more than $300 million in additional monies in state coffers that averted the need to slash assistance programs.
“In this challenging 2013 legislative session,” Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D-Renton), a member of the state’s Jewish caucus, told JTNews, “we’ve worked hard to approve a state budget that makes these smart investments and preserves our community values. Our Jewish organizations have been strong advocates for budget decisions that value education (K-12, early learning, and higher education), ensure safe and healthy families and communities, protect vulnerable people of all ages and abilities, and grow economic opportunity.”
The state was $900 million in the hole when lawmakers began hammering out this biennium’s budget, but the surprise additional revenue paved the way for a bipartisan agreement in the final hours of their second special session.
The “blacker” bottom line came from privatized liquor sales, lottery sales, an increase in housing construction permits, and an anticipated contraction in consumer spending due to a 2 percent payroll tax increase that didn’t happen.
Within the 483-page document the legislature fulfilled its obligation to fund $1 billion for K-12 schools — that’s $500 per student, paid for, in part, by cuts in state building projects, increases in state employee’s health benefit premium cost-sharing, and no cost-of-living increases for teachers.
“This quality budget takes meaningful steps forward in funding public education from early learning, through higher education, and it protects the most vulnerable with important human and social services,” Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) told JTNews. Carlyle is the chairman of the House finance committee and the House budget negotiator.
“Unfortunately, due to the Senate’s absolute unwillingness to close tax exemptions on the revenue side,” Carlyle added, “the spending plan is unsustainable in the long run and we will face similar challenges again soon.”
However, Rep. Cathy Dahlquist (R–Enumclaw), the lead Republican on the House education committee, said she was pleased with the educational outcome.
“This bipartisan bill is the product of collaboration with stakeholders and legislators that starts us down a path to improve student outcomes and better support teachers,” she said in a statement.
Zach Carstensen, the director of government relations and public affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said he accepted the new budget, but he told JTNews the revenue won’t keep up with the cost of running the state, and these challenges will persist.
“In the final compromise budget there are things that are not so great but could have been a lot worse,” said Carstensen, who is acutely aware of the lingering budgetary woes from the 2008 economic fallout. “There’s nothing terrible about this particular budget, but it’s cumulative. We’re all going to have to struggle with [the effects of] the last five years.”
Carstensen said that Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes remain frozen at 2009 recession levels, which continues to impact the always rising cost of providing care at retirement, assisted-living, long-term–care facilities, and hospices like the Caroline Kline Galland Center.
Additionally, he said, the loss of state funding for these programs only puts more financial pressure on private Jewish agencies like Jewish Family Service to make up the difference.
In the current budget, Carstensen noted the supplemental food program is funded at 75 percent, which is below the level of need in the community. However, the 2013-2015 budget increased that amount by 25 percent from the previous biennium.
Still, Carstensen’s reference point reaches back to the start of the recession, when so many programs were downsized. Those cuts, he said, are only compounded today.
“It’s different than what it was a few years ago,” he said. “We had general assistance programs. We used to provide the disabled a modest cash stipend, a few hundred dollars a month, not enough to live on. Now, as they’re struggling with profound mental health issues and disabilities that haven’t quite reached the threshold to invoke federal support, we tell folks we’ll give you a voucher for housing.”
According to the state revenue report, Washington’s economy will continue to experience moderate growth; however, overall employment numbers will remain tepid, at best.