State budget deal fails to fund voter-approved initiative to reduce class sizes

OLYMPIA -- State lawmakers averted a government shutdown with an 11th-hour budget deal earlier this week.  But one big issue still looms -- the fate of the voter-approved measure to reduce class sizes.

Initiative 1351 passed last fall, but  the new budget agreement that Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law just before midnight Tuesday lacks the money to implement it.

Most legislators admit that Initiative 1351 is just too expensive to enact, a staggering $2 billion over just the next two years.  Yes, voters asked for lower class sizes, but they didn’t approve any funding to make it happen.

And so legislators were expected to suspend the Initiative to get out of the obligation, which takes a two-thirds majority.

But that plan hit a big snag late Tuesday night.  Senate Democrats refused to go along with the suspension, arguing that the GOP shut them out of this year’s budget process.

“ should have been thinking about the fact that they couldn’t solve the budget problem in a partisan manner, they needed bipartisan support for their budget approach,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle.   "That’s the approach they chose not to take this year.”

But the GOP’s chief budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said that Democrats are making unreasonable demands.

“That was not what was agreed to,” said Hill.  “When you pass a budget you have to pass the bills that go along with it.”

Bottom line: There is a state budget and no shutdown.  That only took a majority vote.  But without an agreement to suspend I-1351, that budget is already out of balance by at least $2 billion.

Lawmakers are either going to have to come up with that money soon or risk a big lawsuit for not implementing what the voters approved.