State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) told Redmond business leaders Wednesday that he is pleased with the way the recently passed budget was negotiated but concerned about many of the cuts that were made.
Hunter, who represents the state's 48th legislative district, was the guest speaker at the Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon at in the Redmond Town Center.
Hunter outlined what he believes are some of the chief reasons for the state's budget woes, including the rising cost of medicare and medicaid and shrinking revenue from changes in the housing market. He acknowledged the but said he and other legislators remain committed to allotting a large chunk of the budget to education.
In the time since he was elected, Hunter, who is serving his fourth term, said the state's funding of public education has increased from 39 to 43 percent of the budget.
"It's the paramount duty of the state to do that," Hunter said of education funding. "It's not accidental."
In response to a question about cuts to I-728 and I-732, two voter-backed initiatives that have helped pay for smaller class sizes and teacher raises, Hunter said he expects the money for the salary increases will eventually be reinstated, and he hopes the class size funding will be folded back into the basic education fund.
"I think the salary growth will come back, but I don't think we'll ever be able to make up for the income that people lost," he said.
Another worrisome cut that Hunter pointed to was funding for mental health providers. But Hunter said he's pleased there were minimal cuts to early childhood education for at-risk children, another safety net he said saves money later on in everything from special education to incarcerations.
He also said lawmakers set the budget with a realistic revenue projection that might end up being overly conservative but will allow the legislature to avoid adjusting the budget every quarter.
"It's better to be pessimistic in the revenue projections than it is to be overly optimistic," he said. "We really tried to be thoughtful in doing this budget."
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the two-year spending plan, which includes $4.5 billion in cuts, into law on Wednesday.
Meagan Walker, the director of college relations for Cascade Community College, said she appreciated Hunter's insight but remains concerned about higher education funding.
"Obviously the budget's been a big concern to all the community colleges," she said. "We are grateful they gave us some latitude on how to make decisions ... but it's really tough in the whole system."