The state Senate passed a two-year operating budget off the floor Monday, along with a bill that sends a class size reduction initiative back to the voters in an effort to save the state money.
Republican lead budget writer Sen. Andy Hill introduced the $38 billion budget Monday, saying it focuses on education and mental health without raising taxes.
“This budget balances without job-killing manufacturing tax increases,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
Several Democrats spoke against the budget, saying it falls short on state worker pay raises and other issues. The Senate budget gives state workers up to a $2,000 pay raise over two years, instead of the salary increases negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with the governor’s office.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said that amounts to a “hidden tax” on state workers.
“We’ve hidden the tax on state employees and community college employees and state patrol,” said Keiser. “They all had the assurance that when the economy improved we would make things right for them. But that promise is now broken as well.”
The budget passed along caucus lines, 26 to 23, with the mostly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in support and Democrats opposed.
The Senate also passed a bill that modifies Initiative 1351 and sends it backs to voters to ask whether they agree with the change. The initiative adopted by voters last year required smaller class sizes in all grades at a cost estimated around $4 billion through 2019. It did not come with a source of funding.
“It’s pretty clear at this point that it’s not affordable,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, speaking in support of changing the initiative.
The bill only pays for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.
Opponents of the bill argued that voters knew what they were doing when they passed the original initiative.
“Washington state has the 47th worst class sizes in the nation. And that’s why the people rightfully sent us to Olympia with a mission to correct that challenge,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo.
The bill passed 27-22.
The House previously passed its budget. Both sides must negotiate a final budget plan.
Watch the highlights from both Senate floor debates, as well as discussion over a controversial payday lending bill, on Monday’s 15-minute edition of “Legislative Review” below.