The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus presented their proposal for the 2017-2019 budget Tuesday. (Photo by Erin Fenner.)

Senate majority releases their proposed budget

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus released their proposed budget Tuesday morning that would increase property taxes as a major revenue mechanism, saying it will meet the legislature’s education funding requirements while not raising taxes.

Almost right away, Democratic leaders criticized key elements of the proposal.

The basics

The $43 billion proposed budget for the 2017-2019 biennium would rely on an increase in property taxes to meet education funding goals and to meet the needs of the rest of the budget. Under the proposal, the education funding for K-12 would increase twofold, from $13.2 billion to $27.6 billion, with a per-student funding model dedicating $12,500 to each student, with more monies available to students who are homeless, low-income, bilingual or have special needs, according to a press release from the MCC.

The collective bargaining agreements for government employees on the table would be taken off under the budget, and be replaced by a plan to give all state employees a pay raise of $1,000 with “step increases based on experience, and maintaining current health benefits.”

The state would also pay down “unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System Plan 1 pension program by $700 million — reducing eventual state expenses $1.4 billion.”

The budget proposal would also increase mental health funding by $250 million, add 300 beds at community health facilities, increase beds by nearly 100 at crisis centers and increase psychiatric beds by nearly 100 at community hospital.

The MCC budget would also put $1.2 million toward law enforcement deescalation training, create an independent ombudsmen office for the Department of Corrections under Senate Bill 5294.

The criticisms

Democrats didn’t hesitate to call out the problems they saw in the budget. Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, Maury Island, issued a press release as the MCC was still holding a press conference saying the proposal was “cold blooded.” From her statement:

What we saw today was straight out of the Trump playbook.

Republicans unveiled a budget that protects the wealthiest at the expense of those who already are struggling for a seat at the table.

College students, the elderly, poor children, working families, the disabled, the hungry, the homeless – Senate Republicans raid programs aimed at increasing access to college, breaking the cycle of poverty, preparing the youngest kids for success in school and helping working people make ends meet.

Gutting these programs while supporting the largest property tax increase in state history is unnecessary, and simply put, is cold-blooded.

More specifically: Democrats are criticizing the cuts the MCC budget proposes making to human services programs and the property tax increase, that critics are saying is unfair to poorer residents in urban areas.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, issued a statement later, saying that while she was pleased to see Republicans put a budget proposal forward to discuss, there were core elements of the plan that would put an unfair burden on vulnerable populations.

While they put more money into parts of our education system, Senate Republicans rely on paying for their budget with a nearly $6 billion property tax hike and cutting funds essential for struggling families, the elderly and homeless as well as education for preschoolers and low-income kids,” she said in a statement. “Their tax increases hit the middle-class and fixed income seniors disproportionately, and their cuts target poor mothers and their children.

Senate Republicans defend their proposal

Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Kirkland, argued that the state employee pay increases and benefits agreed upon through collective bargaining should not have happened as they did.

He said Gov. Jay Inslee’s work to get state workers raises while he was campaigning, had the “appearance of corruption,” at the budget press conference. He made that argument based on union groups who bargained with the state directly donating about $40,000 to Gov. Jay Inslee’s campaign in 2016, according to a News Tribune story.

Due to that, and the expense of the union agreement, the MCC defended their budget option as more fair.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, also argued that cuts to social welfare programs wouldn’t impact the most vulnerable, but instead be directed toward “able-bodied” people who theoretically could get a job.

He also said that the property taxes would introduce more equality into the tax code.

“There’s enormous inequity in the state right now. What we do is make that equal,” he said.

Braun argued that Republicans attempted to craft a budget that would have elements Democrats could appreciate.

“We worked hard to find ways we could agree,” he said.

Senate Democrats are set to release their own budget proposal next week.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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