After five-weeks of special-session negotiations, the Washington Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus appears to have arrived at the same position it held back in April.
On Saturday the Senate passed a revised budget proposal, which was close to the one it approved, by a 30-18 vote, in late April. Saturday’s vote was 25-23 along strict caucus lines. Members of the Democratic minority caucus who had supported the April budget for various reasons now oppose it because several items they had wanted to be changed were not.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who was absent due to a Washington National Guard obligation, said he would have voted against both the House and Senate budget proposals that have now passed.
With Saturday’s Senate vote and the revised House budget proposal that passed on Thursday, the public can now see the results of the recent closed-door talks.
Spending in the Senate budget proposal has grown from $33.21 billion to $33.278 billion, for a $68 million increase since April. The Senate budget removes one of the tax-exemption closures proposed by the House: the sales tax exemption for non-residents. Closing that loophole should raise an extra $47 million in the 2013-2015 biennium. Originally, the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus was opposed to eliminating any of Washington’s roughly 640 tax exemptions.
Spending in the House budget proposal shrank from $34.33 billion to $33.541 billion, for a $789 million decrease since April. The House originally wanted to extend the state business-and-occupation tax on service firms, and close 11 tax exemptions. Instead, it dropped the B&O tax extension attempt along with four tax exemptions. The House still hopes to close seven exemptions, including the no-sales-tax-for-non-residents.
Tallying it up, there is a $263 million spending difference between the House and Senate budget proposals, plus several policy and revenue differences like whether to keep six current tax exemptions worth roughly $208 million. One huge discrepancy is that the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus wants the House to pass several of its reform bills; House Democratic leaders have indicated they are done pursuing any Democratic or Republican policy-related bills.
"We've seen massive movement on the part of the House,” said Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle. “This [Senate budget] shows no movement on the part of the Senate."
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the majority coalition's chief budget writer, disagreed. Hill noted that the Republican-dominated majority coalition made several concessions during the regular legislative session in order to entice five members of the minority Democratic caucus to join the 30-18 budget vote in April. The coalition has since lost those minority member votes.
Looming over the current budget deadlock is Tuesday’s end to the 30-day special session. A second special-session begins Wednesday, with much of state government bracing for a July 1 shutdown date if a 2013-2015 budget is not passed. (The 105-day regular session ended April 28.)
One budget sticking point is the Washington Supreme Court ruling on education. The court wants student-teacher ratios dramatically improved, all-day kindergartens implemented statewide and numerous support measures installed by mid-2019. House and Senate majorities have radically different ideas about how to comply with the court ruling. In fact, apples-to-apples comparisons of the two approaches are almost impossible. The Senate version, for example, postpones dealing with the student ratio component, and tackles items not directly addressed by the Supreme Court ruling.
The House Democrat's most-optimistic interpretation of their own approach puts $881 million toward the Supreme Court requirements in 2013-2015. The Senate's majority estimates its Supreme Court spending for 2013-2015 at roughly $1 billion, while saying the House version actually guarantees only $704 (not $881) million toward those requirements. (The House version of the budget calls for almost $180 million in additional K-12 improvements money and about $25 million in higher education money, all to be raised by closing six tax exemptions.) "I have a hard time when you spend only $700 million on basic education. ... and you still raise taxes," said Republican Sen. Hill.
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