State Senate proposes even deeper cuts to education

April 13, 2011

By Andrew Garber, Seattle Times

OLYMPIA — The state Senate on Tuesday proposed the deepest cuts yet to education and other services to help close a $5.1 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year budget.

The bipartisan proposal would make $4.8 billion in cuts and transfer a few hundred million dollars from accounts outside the state general fund to balance the budget. It does not include tax increases or major plans to raise new money.

This is the last budget proposal for the session. The House passed its version last week. The governor came out with her plan in December. Now all three sides will try to work out a compromise by the last day of the regular session on April 24.

One of the biggest differences between the Senate and House budgets is the Senate’s does not include a proposal to privatize the state liquor wholesale-distribution system. The House budget tentatively booked $300 million in new revenue, assuming the details could be worked out to lease the wholesale operation to a private company.

Lawmakers say they’re still considering the idea, but Senate budget writers didn’t feel confident enough about it to include in their budget.

The lack of liquor money meant the Senate had to make deeper cuts.

Some big cuts not in the House budget:

• A 3 percent pay cut for K-12 employees that would save the state $251 million over the next two years. The Senate says it’s just extending a similar pay cut for state workers to the K-12 system. However, this would be a cut in state money going to school districts, which would then have to either negotiate pay cuts with their unions or find other ways to reduce spending.

• A $95 million cut in K-12 funding related to average daily attendance at schools. Essentially, when a kid plays hooky, the school will get docked for each day that’s missed without a valid excuse.

• An additional $40 million in savings by furloughing higher-paid state workers. The amount of unpaid time off would increase with pay. For example, a worker making between $50,000 and $75,000 would have to take 16 hours of unpaid time over two years. Workers making $125,000 or more would take 64 hours.

Higher education comes out slightly better in the Senate budget. The proposal cuts deeper than the House, but allows for bigger tuition increases than the other budgets, including 16 percent annual increases at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University. The net reduction in funding is less as a result in the Senate plan.

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