Local legislators forecast budget endgame

Negotiation will be needed to avoid special session




Budget details

Republicans: The Senate majority caucus budget makes up the $1.2 billion deficit primarily through spending cuts to welfare and other social services. It spends approximately $33.3 billion. Other proposals:

• Allocate $3 billion for higher education, a $300 million increase from last year.

• Cut insurance for part-time K-12 and college instructors. Saves money by forcing part-time teachers onto federal health care instead of PEBB, the state insurance for instructors.

• Eliminate Aged, Blind, Disabled Program reform, saving $40.9 million. The program assists legal immigrants not eligible to receive Social Security.

• Reduce funding for the Washington State Patrol state crime labs, $4.2 million.

• Generate $262 million from "capital budget and other revenue relocation."

• Do not remove tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers, such as from Oregon.

Democrats: The House Democrats' budget eliminates the $1.2 billion deficit through new revenue, extending expiring taxes and closing some tax loopholes. The budget spends approximately $34.5 billion. Other proposals:

• Spend $292.6 million more for higher education than last biennium.

• Extend B&O taxes to generate $593 million in revenue.

• End sales tax exemption on bottled water, saving an estimated $52 million.

• Remove tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers, generating $64 million.

• Permanently extend beer tax, but reduce it to 25 cents per gallon. Tax also extended to microbreweries at 15 cents per gallon. Estimated revenue: $58 million.

Both parties:

• Expand Medicaid, saving $265.1 million (Democrats); $303 million (Republicans).

• Remove Initiative 732, which mandates pay increases for K-12 teachers. Democrats project $320 million savings; Republicans project $321 million.

• Spend $2.5 million to implement Initiative 502, which legalizes possession of marijuana.

• The Democrat's plan allocates approximately $1.4 billion in new funding for K-12 education to fulfill state's obligation under the McCleary decision. Republicans propose $1.5 billion for the same purpose.

OLYMPIA — A $1.2 billion difference in funding must be resolved between House Democrats and the Republican-leaning Senate Majority Coalition caucus by April 28 or the Legislature will be forced to go into special session.

House Democrats propose that the $1.2 billion shortfall projected in the budget be covered by new revenue, as well as the removal of some tax breaks. Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies in the majority caucus propose that the deficit be made up in spending cuts to various welfare and service programs.

The Senate proposal would spend approximately $33.3 billion, and the House plan would spend $34.5 billion.

By law, the Legislature must pass a balanced budget. House Speaker Pro-tem Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, explained it this way: "Basically, the Senate budget looks at no new revenue, and the House budget does. To fill the gap, what we'll have to do is a little bit of both, some cuts and some revenue, and then we'll all declare victory and go home."

Moeller said he believes that both sides will have their firm tax policies crumble due to the proximity of the final day of session.

"We are going to have to compromise," he said.

The Senate budget passed with bipartisan support, 30 to 18, with one absence. Nine Democrats supported the Senate budget, although Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, as members of the Majority Coalition, were already expected to vote in favor.

The House bill passed almost wholly along party lines, 54-43. Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, was the only Democrat to vote against the plan, due to its tax increases.

"I promised my constituents I would follow my district when it came to taxes," Stonier explained.

Stonier said many in her party were surprised by her vote, and added that she finds flaws in the Senate budget as well.

"I do have (a) concern that (the Senate budget) is going to cut programs that provide food, shelter and other services for kids," she said.

Stonier explained that as a teacher, she has seen students struggle to learn because they were hungry or sick, or didn't have a home to go to after class.

"We would be remiss to think taking away those services doesn't affect the kids and how they learn," she said.

House Democrats defended their decision to propose tax increases, something that Republicans and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee have both denounced.

"(Ours) is an honest, straightforward budget that meets our constitutional needs to our schools," said House Appropriations Chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina, author of the House budget.

In a video posted to his website, Hunter said the Senate plan relies on "smoke and mirrors."

Many Democrats have complained the GOP plan places the burden on the poor, a claim Republicans refuted.

"I think that everyone hurts in (this budget); I don't think it unfairly attacks the poor," said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. "We can fund anything, but we can't fund everything, and I think there's an expectation that we're going to fund everything."

Rivers said she doesn't see any new taxes coming from her party, and closing tax loopholes may not be an option either. She noted that not everyone agrees on the definition of a loophole.

"An incentive bringing jobs to our state is not a tax loophole," she said, emphasizing that such incentives are not on the Republicans' chopping block.

Despite the various conflicts, the two budgets share some common ground.

For example, both support the Obama administration's Medicaid expansion, saving $265.1 million, according to Democrats, and $303 million by Republican measurements.

Additionally, both budgets remove or postpone Initiative 732, which mandates pay increases for K-12 teachers, a savings estimated at $320 million by Democrats, and a million more than that by Republicans.

Both plans allocate almost $1.5 billion in additional spending to K-12 education, in accordance with the Supreme Court's McCleary decision.

Stonier said cuts that hurt kids go against the intent behind the McCleary decision.

The two houses both increase funding for higher education by about $300 million. However, the majority caucus in the Senate has pledged to lower tuition by 3 percent, while House Democrats propose a 5 percent increase in tuition for the University of Washington and Washington State University, and a 3 percent increase for other four-year universities.

The Legislature has gone into special session every year since 2010.

Rivers said while she is hopeful a special session won't be needed, she still sticks with her original "50-50 chance" estimate.

Stonier said she looks forward to working with individuals on both sides of the aisle for a solution before the April 28 cutoff.