LYMPIA - The state Senate voted last night (Wednesday) to adopt a state operating budget for 2011-13, ending months of negotiation that resulted in pushing the Legislature into a 30-day special session.
Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) joined a bipartisan majority in support of the spending plan, saying it offers a responsible combination of reforms and spending discipline that will help put state government back on solid financial ground.
"I remember the last time the Legislature passed a budget that spent less than the state expected to take in - that was 1997," said Honeyford.
The Sunnyside lawmaker has served the 15th Legislative District as a lawmaker since 1994.
"This budget comes in about 350 million dollars less than the anticipated revenue, and leaves more than 700 million dollars in reserve. Hopefully that will be enough to weather any more revenue reductions as we go through this year," he said.
"No one figured this budget would include tax increases, thanks to the limit reinstated by the voters several months ago, but it also doesn't include fees that were rumored earlier this session: no water fees, no agricultural fees, no fees for habitat or forest protection," Honeyford said.
"I have to believe the bipartisan approach the Senate took to this budget had a lot to do with holding the line in those areas."
Honeyford, a retired 28-year educator, noted funding for K-12 schools will climb by $356 million, with the level of funding per pupil going up as well. He said schools will have more discretion regarding how they spend state money, and funding for levy equalization will be preserved, benefiting two-thirds of Washington school districts, Sunnyside among them.
Funding for county agricultural fairs will remain whole, Honeyford said, and while conservation districts will see a drop in funding, the budget agreement also contains a breakthrough related to water management. He said for the first time, funding for the Department of Ecology will be tied to its performance on water-right processing.
Honeyford, who serves on the Senate budget committee, cited a list of reforms in other areas of government that make the budget package good for taxpayers. Those reforms include:
...workers compensation reform, which benefits both employers and workers;
...caps and controls on the Basic Health Plan and "disability lifeline;"
...steps to reduce rampant abuse of electronic benefit-transfer cards;
...more flexibility concerning Medicaid spending, which constitutes a large part of state spending;
...an emphasis on contracting services out through the creation of a new enterprise-services agency;
...and less reliance on transfers from other funds, one-time cash infusions or budget gimmicks, such as "securitizing" tobacco settlement money.
Yesterday was the final day of the special 30-day session. The new budget, which passed 34-13 in the Senate, will take effect July 1, assuming Gov. Chris Gregoire signs it, as she is expected to do.
Hours before the completion of the 30-day special session in Olympia, lawmakers approved legislation that spends $2.77 billion on capital construction projects throughout the state, including more than $100 million in the 14th District.
House Bill 1497 includes projects funded by cash accounts in the capital budget. House Bill 2020 includes bond authorization and projects funded by those bonds. Senate Bill 5181 sets a statutory debt limit reduction from 8.75 percent to 7.75 percent.
Yakima Valley projects that will receive funding through the capital budget include replacement of Eisenhower High School; the remodeling of Davis High School and Stanton Alternative High School; completion of the Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center; upgrading the YWCA women's crisis center in Yakima; various repairs to Yakima Valley School in Selah; and improvements to the Central Washington State Fair Park in Yakima.
The capital budget bills received the support of 14th District legislators Sen. Curtis King, Rep. Norm Johnson and Rep. Charles Ross.
"Going into this session, our main priority was to ensure matching funding for our high school bonds would be included in the capital budget," said King (R-Yakima).
"We were successful in going beyond that by securing funds for the vocational skills center, the YWCA and the Central Washington State Fair. All of that is attributable to the hard work of my seatmates in the House and my colleagues in the Senate," King said.
Johnson (R-Yakima) said the local projects that were approved for funding will provide needed jobs for the local community, expand and improve local schools, ensure security for women and children who are suffering from abuse, and create a better quality of life for the Yakima area.
"I appreciate the hard work of Representative Judy Warnick, who helped negotiate this budget, and paid close attention to the needs of our local area. It is a great win for the taxpaying families of the 14th District. In this budget, we are bringing our tax money back home to provide needed, important facilities for our local citizens and their families," said Johnson, a former Toppenish resident and educator.
The bills funding the capital construction projects have been sent to the governor for her consideration, and like the state operating budget that now lies on her desk, are expected to be formally approved.