Senate unveils new budget proposal



OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — With just days left in an overtime legislative session, the state Senate on Saturday unveiled a revised budget plan similar to a proposal the chamber passed during the regular session, but which makes some concessions on revenue.

Debate on the new proposal started Saturday afternoon.

The plan includes a requirement that nonresidents apply for sales tax refunds instead of getting them automatically, and ends a tax break for residential phone services.

The budget proposal doesn’t seek to close additional tax exemptions as the Democratic-controlled House did in its budget proposal passed earlier this week, which also eliminated the sales tax exemption on bottled water. The Senate plan also offers a fix to a recent ruling on the estate tax that could cost the state millions of dollars in refunds.

However, Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond who is the key budget writer for the chamber, said that the revenue-related bills won’t pass off the Senate floor “until we get the reforms we’re asking for.”

The Senate majority pulled a handful of policy bills to the floor earlier Saturday for a potential vote, including bills to make changes to the state’s workers compensation system, a measure to cap non-educational state spending, a bill to give veto power to principals over teachers assigned to their schools and a measure on payday loans.

Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, accused the other side of taking the revenue bills hostage for reforms.

“I think it’s immoral,” he said.

Republicans control the Senate with the help of two Democrats, known as the Majority Coalition Caucus. The House and Senate have been locked in budget negotiations for weeks after failing to come to a budget agreement before the end of the regular session that concluded on April 28. A 30-day special session ends Tuesday. Gov. Jay Inslee has said another special session would start Wednesday if needed.

As in the original budget, the Senate’s new budget proposal also repeals the voter-approved cost-of-living raises for teachers, redirecting the assumed $320 million to basic education. It also redirects money from other accounts, like the construction budget.

A program that provides cash aid to blind, disabled or older people who are typically waiting for approval of federal benefits would be cut by nearly $41 million, less than the $80 million cut initially sought in the original Senate budget passed in April.

The budget leaves nearly $600 million in reserves at the end of the two year budget cycle ending mid-2015.

Compared to the current budget, the spending plan for the coming two years adds $1.5 billion more to K-12 education, including about $1 billion directly toward satisfying last year’s Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to properly fund education. The overall amount in Saturday’s proposal includes more than $240 million on a learning assistance program targeted to high-poverty schools and $41 million to phase in expansion of full-day kindergarten, both which were included in the Senate’s first budget.

The Senate also moves forward with Medicaid expansion, with the assumption that the move will save the state nearly $320 million.

The Senate budget also restores pay cuts to public school employees and state employees, and it pays for fulfillment of collective bargaining pay agreements for state employees.