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News / Northwest

Washington Legislature OKs budget

It puts another $58 million toward K-12 education

The Columbian
Published: March 12, 2014, 5:00pm

OLYMPIA — The Washington state Legislature on Thursday approved a supplemental budget that will add more money to basic education and cap tuition increases for public college students for the second year in a row.

The bipartisan budget passed on a 48-1 vote in the Senate, shortly after it passed on an 85-13 vote in the House. The votes came as the Legislature is set to adjourn its 60-day session.

“When I describe this budget, I think the key things are: it’s bipartisan, it prioritizes education, it lives within our means, and it’s done on time,” said Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond who is the Senate’s main budget writer.

The budget proposal has a $155 million spending increase over the $33.6 billion, two-year state operating budget approved by the Legislature last year. It does not include cost-of-living increases for teachers and does not close any tax exemptions, both things that were initially proposed by the House. New tax exemptions that were sought by the Senate were also not included.

“Every now and then we pass budgets that don’t require taxes, but I think this is the first one in my memory where we don’t give any taxes back,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, ranking Democrat on the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. “We’re in a very tight spot right now, so I think this was a responsible way to go.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, said he was the lone vote against the budget because of two measures that will sunset in January. One would encourage more technology companies to form and one would end money given to health and biotech research in the state.

“This is not the best way to attract these companies,” he said. “They’ll see that Washington has pulled out their stakes.”

In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a sustainable budget that “fixes the underlying problems that come about every year.”

“We have more work to do next year on many different fronts,” Hunter said earlier in the day. “And I look forward to that.”

The budget puts $58 million toward K-12 materials and supplies and an additional $25 million for “opportunity scholarships” for students who are pursuing degrees in what are known as the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. The budget also allots more than $20 million in community mental health, including $7 million in response to a settlement that requires the state to expand mental health services for children.

The focus on education spending continues as part of Washington’s ongoing response to a 2012 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which found that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation concerning education funding. That ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents and education groups, known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit. The court has required yearly progress reports from the Legislature on its efforts. Those reports are then critiqued by the group that brought the lawsuit and by the Supreme Court.

The latest communication from the high court earlier this year told lawmakers to submit a complete plan by the end of April detailing how the state will fully pay for basic education.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said he couldn’t support the budget because of the lack of inclusion of tax breaks for businesses that would have helped areas east of the mountains.

“There is nothing in this budget for the forgotten Washington,” he said.