Capitol Week Ahead: The budgets are coming, the budgets are coming
by John Stang
Olympia has been in Waiting For Godot mode.
Soon, Godot will arrive — and weeks of agonizing, borderline existential, subject-to-multiple-interpretational speculating will jell into conflicting plans for how to run state government.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his budget priorities. The governor is big on shunting more money to education, closing tax exemptions and keeping a couple of taxes that are ready to expire. His budget also gives a boost to high-tech. But nothing on the nitty-gritty of how dollars would actually be allocated in the $34.43 billion, 2013-2015 budget.
"I choose, and believe we should all choose, education over tax breaks," Inlee said last Thursday. " … I know it won't be easy. … We'll see the evolution in people's thoughts as the numbers sink in."
Meanwhile, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — 23 Republicans and two Democrats — is expected, but not guaranteed, to unveil its own first, full-fledged 2013-2015 budget proposal this week. "When we do it, we want to do it right," said Republican Caucus Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
The upcoming majority coalition budget will answer months' worth of questions, which can be rolled up into one: How can the Republicans inject a massive amount of money into K-12 education — and more cash into colleges — without a) decimating health and social programs, b) raising taxes and c) not closing any tax loopholes?
The Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to announce its budget a few days after the Senate's proposal comes to light. The best guesses at this time about the House budget is that it will allocate more money than the Senate's for K-12 education, and call for new revenue from new taxes, or from keeping expiring taxes or closing tax loopholes.
This week's schedule in the Legislature reflects the budget uncertainty. Most Senate and House committees are in holding patterns, awaiting some dollar figures and accompanying bills to chew over.
In non-budget goings-on this week:
The Senate Health Care Committee holds a hearing today (Monday) on the House version of the Reproductive Parity Act, which would order insurance companies that offer maternity-related insurance to also cover abortions. The House is split 53-43 on the measure, mostly Democrats for and Republicans against. A similar bill already died in the Republican-oriented Senate.
The House Education Committee will vote Tuesday on whether to send a group of Senate Republican education reform bills to the full House. This will be the first public clue on how the Democratic-controlled House feels about reform. If the bills get out of committee, the House Democratic leadership could stall them, as the philosophically opposed House and Senate stack up hostage bills for horse-trading during the legislative session's end game.
The various education reform bills would have the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction intervene in the 10 lowest-performing schools; and make students repeat third grade if they can't read at a certain level.
These bills drew varying reactions from Senate Democrats, with none gaining full support from the minority party.