OLYMPIA (March 5) — Senate Republicans, with the assistance of three Democrats, staged a coup Friday night using an arcane parliamentary procedure to seize control and pass a secretly negotiated budget and several budget policy bills. The legislation further eviscerates the social safety net, takes revenue from local governments, harms public schools and higher education, and fails to fund our state’s pension liabilities.
Many have expressed shock and dismay at this cynical subversion of the legislative process and utter disregard for government transparency. But the truth is, forgoing public hearings and testimony and forcing legislators to vote on backroom bills they haven’t even had the opportunity to read is right out of the Republican playbook — from 2003.
In 2003, the last time Republicans controlled the Senate, they unveiled and passed a mammoth bill gutting Washington’s unemployment insurance system. They did so at 2 a.m., just hours after the third special session had been called, with a bill that the public had never seen and, in fact, would not see for the first time until 6 hours after it had passed the Senate.
So the 2012 Senate Republican budget is deja vu all over again. Secret backroom deals. No public notice or input. Strong-armed partisan votes on bills that haven’t been read.
“What we witnessed this past Friday was a taste of what it would be like with Republican control of the Legislature and Rob McKenna in the Governor’s office,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council. “The Republican budget is an attack on the basic values we hold dear to protect the poor and the most vulnerable in our state. It directly contradicts the public testimony and presence of thousands of citizens who came to Olympia over the last couple months or who contacted legislators asking them to protect the safety net.”
Instead, here is what the Senate Republicans’ backroom budget does:
- It eliminates medical coverage for more than 15,000 low-income disabled individuals, adding to the existing 1 million people without health care in the State of Washington.
- It cuts funding for our poorest individuals, those on TANF, by more than $200 million, including the loss of child care services.
- It eliminates the State Food Assistance Program, which provides food to 12,000 families a month.
- It cuts more than $40 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program.
- It cuts Homeless Assistance.
- It cuts funding for K-12 schools and higher education by more than $75 million.
- It cuts local governments’ budgets by $ 70 million.
- It fails to pay pension liabilities of $133 million for state employees and $17 million is taken from the state portion of LEOFF pension contributions leading to an underfunding of the pension fund for uniformed officers of about $150 million.
“While this Senate Republican budget does not represent the values that we believe in, it could not have been approved without the active support of three Democrats who apparently do share its right-wing conservative values,” Johnson said. “Democratic Senators Jim Kastama, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon have demonstrated their contempt not just for open government, but also for a government that protects its most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.”