According to Sen. Ed Murray, the final budget looks remarkably like the unacceptable budget he first proposed.
  • According to a document forwarded by Sen. Ed Murray, the final budget looks remarkably like the allegedly irresponsible budget he first proposed.

For all the grandstanding—for all the stupid fucking credulous Republican-talking-point-regurgitating editorials—the final supplemental budget passed during the wee hours this morning looks remarkably similar to the allegedly unacceptable budget Senate Ways & Means chair Ed Murray proposed during the final days of the regular session, at least on the spending side.

Murray's budget was soooo irresponsible we were told, that it sparked three of his fellow Dems to jump sides, using a rare parliamentary maneuver to hand control over to the Republicans. It was this Senate coup that killed the Murray budget, forcing a 30-day special session, plus an additional 7-hour special session to mop up unfinished business.

So what did we get for all this drama and expense? Fuck all.

Senate Republican budget chief Joe Zarelli's $44 million of cuts from K-12 and $30 million from higher education? Didn't happen. Disability Lifeline, the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Treatment and Support Act, Housing and Essential Needs, State Food Assistance, and other social programs Zarelli sought to eliminate? All funded in the final budget at levels similar to what Murray had proposed.

The Dems' proposed one-day delay in making a payment to public school districts, well, that particular accounting maneuver was squashed, but then so was the Republicans' proposal to skip a payment to state pension funds. Instead, much of the half billion dollar revenue shortfall is made up with a different accounting trick, one which which keeps $238 million in local sales taxes on the state's books for 30 days, but without delaying the redistribution back to local jurisdictions.

(I'm not sure how this gimmick is any more or less "felonious" than the other two, but then, I'm not a state treasurer, so what do I know?)

Like Murray's proposed budget, the final budget even includes the elimination of a $16 million tax loophole enjoyed by out-of-state banks! Sure, this new revenue was washed out by the extension of a couple tax breaks, but this still means that Democrats and Republicans alike voted for a tax hike, and by a two-thirds supermajority. Just like Murray's original budget proposed.

So what exactly were Republicans and their three disloyal Democratic allies holding out for?

"It's not just about balancing the budget," Zarelli emphasized at a Capitol press availability last week, a point made clear this morning when his caucus overwhelmingly voted for a budget that largely matched the one they unanimously rejected just a little more than a month ago. No, the supplemental budget was merely a hostage in a larger fight to pass three budget related "reforms," none of which have any impact on the current balance sheet, and all of which offer dubious benefits:

1) Pension Reform.
This was the measure Zarelli managed to force through most successfully, essentially rolling back early retirement benefits by as much as 50 percent for new state hires. Republicans pitched it as a fuck-state-workers-with-their-fancier-than-you-have-pensions reform that would also save the state $1.3 billion over 25 years, though Murray finds it short sighted: "Seventy-five percent of new hires will be teachers," explains Murray, teachers who will look across the border at states where they can retire with full benefits in 30 years rather than 40. "The whole idea was to fund teachers at a higher level so as to attract the best and brightest." Murray says we'll eventually have to roll back this reform if we're to move forward on improving K-12 education.

Murray also points out that the reform was fiscally unnecessary, given the fact that most of our pensions are currently over-funded, making them among the most financially sound in the nation. And ironically, by discouraging older workers from retiring early, this reform could actually cost state coffers more than it saves, given that older workers tend to earn more than their younger counterparts, while racking up considerably higher health insurance costs.

But fucking state workers is always a winner with Republicans and editorial boards, so fuck state workers we did.

2) Four-Year Budgeting.
Zarelli won this battle too, though only in appearance. What started as a constitutional amendment that would mandate four-year budgeting ended in a compromise that keeps us on a two-year budget cycle, but with four year projections. Whatever that means. Like it's even possible to accurately project revenue and expenditures four years out.

"It's the equivalent of the old Soviet five year plans," quipped Murray following his post-special-session nap, "and we all know how those things worked out."

Most states write one-year budgets, only a handful budget biennially like Washington, and no state (or private company for that matter) budgets on a four-year cycle. Because doing so would just be stupid. That said, Republicans love the idea because it would essentially operate as a tool for ratcheting down the size of government. During good cycles, when revenues come in higher than projected, the extra money doesn't get spent because hey... we're in the middle of a four-year budget! That leaves a surplus to be raided via tax cuts and exemptions. But in bad economic cycles, when revenues come in lower, well, we'll have to pass a supplemental budget that cuts spending, because we must live within our means and all that.

Clever. Fortunately, Republicans didn't get most of what they wanted.

3. Teachers Health Care
Republicans held out for a measure that would eliminate the ability for teachers unions to collectively bargain for their health care benefits, and instead move K-12 teachers health insurance into the same state-run pool with other state workers. They didn't get it.

"ESSB 5940 doesn’t mandate a state takeover of the K-12 health care system," Washington Education Association (WEA) spokesperson Rich Wood explained in an email this morning, but it does make contract negotiations more difficult. Whether it ultimately saves the state any money—the putative goal of the bill, rather than the real goal (you know, fucking the WEA)—remains to be seen. The final language of the compromise bill was only released just minutes before exhausted legislators voted for it at around 4 a.m., so nobody really knew what they were voting for.

Support The Stranger

A face-saver for Zarelli and his colleagues, maybe. But responsible budgeting hardly.

So there you have it. All this fuss and delay in exchange for a budget we could've passed more than month ago, plus two half-measures and a pension "reform" that will likely cost state taxpayers more than it saves. That's what the Republicans were fighting for.

Like the headline says: a total fucking waste of time.