State Republicans put education on chopping block in new budget

Randy Dorn

Three Democrats in the Washington state Senate crossed the aisle to help Republicans pass a budget, 25-24, last week. The budget would close the state's billion-dollar budget gap by cutting spending, including for education programs. 

It was a coup for Republicans to take control of the Senate with the help of those three Democrats. 

"We basically had a budget jammed down our throats, without a chance to read it, have hearings on it," complained Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle. "As the governor said, that's not how we do business in this state."

The three Democratic senators -- Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach -- have expressed the importance of a balanced budget and said that the Senate-passed budget is merely a starting point for negotiation.

"It was a very hard decision for me to make, but it was the clearest message I could make to say the status quo is no longer acceptable," Kastama said.

"It doesn't spend more money than we're bringing in," Sheldon said. "We live within our means and there's no new taxes. I think this is what the citizens of Washington state want."

However, proposed cuts to education, which total more than $70 million, concern Democrats and education proponents, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

In a statement, Dorn said the budget would cut many programs that benefit low-income students and could lead to more students dropping out.

"We all lose when our students drop out of school," Dorn said. "The future productivity of our state suffers. The future cost for social services rises. Our kids — especially kids most at risk — need the programs the Senate Republicans eliminate."

Education is the only item getting slashed in the new budget — health and human services programs suffer as well.

The budget has not gained support from Democrats who hold a larger majority in the House, nor has it been supported by the governor's office and could cause lawmakers to continue their 60-day session, which was scheduled to wrap up Thursday. If the session runs past Thursday, it would cost taxpayers even more money.