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The Legislature has been very busy, and I want to update you on some of the happenings. The deadline for passing House bills out of the House and over to the Senate came and went. While there are still a number of bad bills alive, we were able to prevent some problematic pieces of legislation from moving forward. Also, the caseload and revenue forecasts came out last week – which reduced our budget shortfall to about $1.1 billion. The news grabbing the most headlines last week was House Republicans unveiled their own budget proposal. And, Tuesday the House Democrats released their budget proposal. Below I have a link comparing the two budgets.
House Republicans unveil budget
Last Friday, Republican leadership on the House Ways and Means Committee introduced the Legislature's first complete supplemental budget proposal for the 2012 session. It is a budget that protects the core services of state government and focuses on our three main priorities – basic education, public safety and our most vulnerable citizens including our seniors, children and the disabled. This with: no state sales tax increase; no bonding; no securitization; and no budget gimmicks.
It is uncommon for the minority party to introduce a proposed operating budget, but we must be solution-oriented and offer alternatives. Our budget provides a great starting point. Had it been allowed to move through the process, with some amendments, it indeed could have set our state on the road to a sustainable budget. We introduced our detailed education only budget three weeks ago, as part of our Fund Education First plan, and this budget is a continuation of how we would budget and what our priorities would be in the spending plan.
House Democrats release budget
In comparison, the House Democrats' budget proposal introduced this week reflects a different set of priorities. My biggest concern is that it continues to push difficult decisions down the road, and continues to delay outlying years needed budget reforms. It shifts education apportionment money and levy equalization payments into the next biennium, to make them the responsibility of future Legislatures. It also makes severe reductions to local governments but then allows local governments to raise taxes to buy-back those cuts. Essentially this just passes the burden on to local governments, many of which are also struggling right now. For an overview of the budget released by House Democrats this week, click here.
Here are some specific concerns I have with their budget, including cuts to programs impacting the disabled community:
- Increases the Nursing Home Safety Net Assessment from $11/day to $19/day (maximum allowed under federal law).
- Reduces Adult Day Health by 20 percent.
- Increases Adult Family Home license fees from $175 per bed to $370 per bed.
- Reduces the length of supervision to 12 months for all offenders except sex offenders who will be supervised for 24 months (reduced from the current 36 months).
- Reduces mental health services for individuals transitioning from jail by 50 percent.
- Eliminates all fair funding effective March 2012.
- Eliminates funding from the Municipal Criminal Justice Assistance, County Criminal Justice Assistance, Rural County Sales Tax Credit programs, and the Beer Tax Distribution to local governments effective December 31, 2012.
- Eliminates all state funding for local public health districts and replaces this funding with the local share of the liquor excise tax (representing about a 20 percent funding reduction for local public health districts).
- Eliminates state funding for municipal and district court judge salaries.
- Assumes passage of an omnibus local government tax bill establishing new councilmanic tax authority for local governments to offset state funding reductions.
For a full comparison of the House Republicans and House Democrats budgets click “House budget comparisons.” The Senate is set to release its budget proposal next week.
The Economic Revenue Forecast Council gave us some good news last week. The General Fund-State net change is an increase of about $96 million, but only about $32 million of this amount is new revenue due to the economy. Our caseloads are trending down as we're seeing those who qualify move out of state services and onto federal programs, or people may not be utilizing state services at all. This reflects a savings of about $340 million. I am cautiously optimistic about the economy and revenues, but the reality is our economy is still sluggish. We cannot use this as an excuse to stop looking for long-term solutions, and reforms that set our state on a better path for economic recovery. While this is certainly some good news, we must keep focused on the work at hand and finish this legislative session within the 60-day regular legislative session.
Honoring the Washington National Guard
On Feb. 2, I had the privilege to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor our National Guard. Many in my family have served or are serving our country, so it means a great deal to me to speak about those who serve in the branches of our national guard and military. To listen to my speech click here and click on the “play” button.
I hope you find this update informative. Please continue to communicate with me on your priorities as we move into the last two weeks of the legislative session. There are still a number of issues to be debated and your input and feedback are important to me.
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