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January 18, 2011 at 12:35 PM

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House proposal would save Disability Lifeline, money for schools

Posted by Andrew Garber


House Democrats released a budget proposal for the current fiscal year that would restore certain funding to schools and the poor that Gov. Chris Gregoire had proposed reducing or eliminating.

Specifically, the plan would retain the state Disability Lifeline, which provides cash and health care for unemployable disabled people. It also would provide funding for a children's health-care program and maintain levy equalization money that helps poorer school districts keep up with wealthier ones.

The House is looking at ways to save the state Basic Health Plan, which provides subsidized insurance to thousands of lower-income residents, but the details haven't been worked out yet.

House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said their proposal pays for the programs by making different cuts than Gregoire, and by shifting more money from accounts outside the state general fund than the governor. However the measure still leaves the state $260 million in red for the year.

The proposal apparently only deals with funding the programs this fiscal year, which runs through June. The next two-year budget is still an open question.

Go to the jump to read the press release the House Democrats sent out.

OLYMPIA - The House unveiled a plan today that takes another $340 million bite out of the current budget shortfall while maintaining current funding levels for basic education and Apple Health for Kids.

"One of our goals going into this process was to protect our children as much as we possibly could," said Rep. Ross Hunter, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. "We couldn't save everything, but we really prioritized core services for kids."

Hunter's proposal includes $216.5 million in cuts and $123.8 in fund transfers. This comes on top of the $588 million cut last month during the one-day special session.

"This is real progress," said Hunter (D-Medina). "The problem is getting smaller. We still have a gap of about $260 million to fill for the fiscal year that ends June 30, but taking this action now will mean taking fewer cuts next biennium."

Levy equalization funds that help property-poor school districts are left intact, according to Rep. Pat Sullivan, House Majority Leader and long-time education advocate.

"These decisions aren't easy for any of us," said Sullivan (D-Covington), "but maintaining the current levy equalization was a high priority for our caucus. Schools all over the state rely on those dollars for vital education programs."

Besides levy equalization, differences from Governor Gregoire's proposed supplemental budget include several safety net items. Apple Health for Kids and the Disability Lifeline are funded at current levels, and the following services are cut, but not to the level recommended by the governor: State food assistance, child abuse prevention, prescription drug assistance for seniors, community health clinics, family planning services, mental health assistance.

"There are still devastating cuts in this proposal, but in many cases we managed to stretch the safety net without breaking it," said committee vice-chair Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma). "Our children, elderly, and most vulnerable people remain a priority in this proposal."

"We recognize our state has a real problem," said Hunter. "Unlike the lawmakers in some states, we know it's our responsibility to tackle it early in the session." His proposal will be heard in House Ways and Means today at 3:30 and could be approved by that committee as early as tomorrow.

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