Today, the Democratic-controlled Washington House will likely pass the $34.5 billion 2013-2015 budget it unveiled two days ago.
The House's Republican minority will gripe and make symbolic gestures against the size of that budget, complaining that it is too big and will hurt business too much by eliminating tax exemptions and extending a beer and a business-and-operations tax for service-related firms.
The House minority will mimic the Senate's minority Democrats who griped and made symbolic gestures last week when the Republican-oriented Senate passed a $33.21 billion budget that slashed social and health services while keeping tax exemptions intact.
The passage of the Democratic budget will set the stage for a long stretch of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Senate's and House's budget gurus to reconcile vast differences in tax exemptions, slashing non-education budgets, and ideas of where to scrape extra money from.
Each side has huddled in their caucuses, preparing themselves to present a "West Side Story" kind of "we-shall-not-budge" public stance entering these talks.
The question is: Does anyone believe two diametrically opposed political sides can resolve so many hardcore differences in the 16 days between now and the end of the session on April 28? If you have to bet, the safe wager is that the session will go into extra innings.
So the two sides will battle behind closed doors, hoping it will come to a peaceful end in which they can each claim victory.
For those keeping score, Gov. Jay Inslee and the House Democrats have somewhat similar budget plans, while the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — 23 Republicans and two Democrats — have something radically different ideas.
Here's how the Senate and House proposals will begin the budget talks:
- Total budget: House begins at $34.5 billion; Senate begins at $33.21 billion.
- Allocation for Washington Supreme Court-mandated improvements in education: The House starts at $1.3 billion; Senate starts at $1billion. The House version has money for improving teacher-student ratios in grades K-3 in 2013-2015. The Senate version does not.
- Extra revenue: The House would close 15 tax exemptions worth $751 million. The Senate version does not eliminate any tax exemptions. The House version would extend expiring beer and services-related B&O taxes ro raise $592.7 million for 2013-2015. The Senate version would extend an expiring hospital safety-net tax by six years, raising $238 million for 2013-2015.
- Cuts: The Senate version would dramatically slash social and health services. The House versions cuts are radically smaller.
- Higher education: The House proposal is geared for maximum tuition increases of 5 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University, and 3 percent at the other state colleges. The Senate proposal is tailored to create a 3 percent tuition reduction.
The budget is not the only blossoming smackdown between Democrats and Republicans in Olympia.
There's the proposed new Interstate 5 bridge connecting Vancouver and Portland. The Columbia River Crossing is a $3.5 billion project to replace the current structure with a modern bridge, which would include a Vancouver-to-Portland light rail extension. Democrats like it. Washington state Republicans hate it.
The two sides are really, really in hardcore combat over the bridge's replacement.
That division includes the Clark County delegation. Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Don Benton, R-Vancouver are vehemently against it. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, opposes it. Meanwhile, state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, support the replacement. The U.S..Department of Transportation, Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, support it.
The main pro-new-bridge arguments are that the current bridge is very old and is a major link along a major West Coast transportation corridor. The anti-new-bridge arguments are that iit would be too low for some boat traffic and Vancouver residents don't want to pay for light rail.
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