House releases budget
The House Ways and Means Chair presented the House budget on Tuesday morning, February 21. The summary of it can be found here. It is an all cuts, balanced budget (without tax increases) that largely funds basic education and preserves the safety net programs and/or priorities that United Way of King County supports including 12 month authorization for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), pre-school for at-risk 3 and 4 year olds (ECEAP), home visiting, State Food Assistance (SFA) program, Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) and Medical Care Services (MCS) for the temporarily disabled, and the Basic Health Plan (BHP). While cuts are made to chemical dependency, mental health and domestic violence, they are not as deep as those proposed in the Governor’s budget. In addition, Community Services Block grant and Asset Building were each cut by 36% and public health dollars were reduced.
The House was able to preserve a larger part of the safety net and funding for basic education in part due to a better financial picture than a few months ago, delaying levy equalization payments a day or two until the beginning of next fiscal year, transferring unspent human services dollars and taking back funds previously allocated to local jurisdictions (“eliminating revenue diversion”) and providing local government with increased taxing authority. It also assumes additional revenue from several sources which have already received bipartisan support: closing the tax exemption that banks receive on interest for first mortgages, adding the cigarette tax to “roll-your-own” cigarettes and utility tax revisions and a $41 million increase to the state in liquor taxes as a result of Initiative 1183. The delay of levy equalization funds is seen by some as a “one year gimmick” that will only pass the shortfall on to next year. And, local jusridictions will definitely feel the impact of losing funding from the state.
The House budget is the starting point of legislative budget discussions. The budget will be amended in Ways and Means on Wednesday and will go to the floor on Friday before going to the Senate. The Senate is expected to release its proposed budget next week. Session is scheduled to end on March 8.
Representative Darneille, co-chair of House Ways and Means Committee, provided a quick comparison between the Governor’s budget and the House budget in her February 21, 2012 Legislative Update.