Olympia: The standoff continues despite talk of progress

The Senate passed a handful of bills on which there had been little disagreement. But the House didn't convene at all on Thursday, and had no session scheduled for today.
Transportation spending was MIA in the state's 2013-2015 budget.

Transportation spending was MIA in the state's 2013-2015 budget. Photo: Flickr User SaraiRachel

Sen. Rodney Tom

Sen. Rodney Tom

Deadlock continued in Olympia Thursday.

"We're closer. But there're still significant issues (to resolve)," said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, prior to entering another negotiating sessions with the Senate's majority leaders late Thursday afternoon.

"We've been going back and forth with the House with offers and counteroffers for what seems like years now," said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina and leader of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.

Meanwhile, the Senate majority alliance of 23 Republicans and two Democrats revived five non-controversial bills Thursday — passing them overwhelmingly and sending them to the House Thursday.

If signed into law, the five bills would increase regulations on child care businesses, have some state agencies review their rules every five years, establish closer monitoring of the state's effort to create a "one-stop" place for businesses to deal with permits and other regulations, creates stricter monitoring on some federal money used by the state, and improve evaluations of early childhood education.

The Senate had previously overwhelming passed four of those bills in early March and one in mid-April, but this legislation never went anywhere in the House. The five have floated in the background during the 53 days of closed-door talks between the Republican-oriented Senate and the Democratic-controlled House, but apparently never became serious bargaining chips.

All open bills become dormant when the regular legislative ends. Their chamber of origin must revive them on the floor in order to send them to the other chamber during a special session.

Senate Democrats protested that special sessions — the Legislature is now in its second one — are supposed to concentrate on budget matters and not on peripheral bills. But that protest was mild.

Meanwhile, the House's rank-and-file members stayed home Thursday and are scheduled to do the same today while their leaders continue negotiations with the Senate.

Looming over the talks is the fact that many state functions will shut down on July 1 if no 2013-2015 operating budget is passed by then. Here an overview of the closure plan. If no action on the budget occurs in the Legislature by Monday, the first notices of layoffs or furloughs will go out to state employees.

Earlier this week, the majority coalition leaders said that they would drop all of their sought-after policy bills from the budget talks if the House Democrats stop seeking $208 million, which would come from closure of six tax exemptions. The key bills for the Senate majority include increasing the amounts and interests allowed to be charged in payday loans, putting a cap on non-education funding increases, requiring teachers and principals to agree whenever a teacher is assigned to a new school, and lowering the eligible age from 55 to 40 on potential lump settlements on workers compensation claims.

Democrats have not publicly replied to that offer.

Stances on another proposed tax exemption closure bill are fuzzier. The House wants to repeal a landline phone tax exemption as a preventative measure to head off cellular companies and other telecommunications firms from filing lawsuits seeking the same exemptions. Verizon has already filed such litigation earlier this year. A successful lawsuit in 2014 could lead to a refund of about $430 million in fiscal 2015, plus the loss of about $430 million in 2015-2017 revenue and another $673 million in 2017-2019

The Senate's last public 2013-2015 operating budget proposal called for spending $33.2 billion, while the House's last public proposal called for $33.5 billion. Even if the Democrats and Republicans close in on the basic size of the 2013-2015 budget, they are still far apart on how that money should be spent.

The majority coalition wants to significantly cut health and social services to funnel the extra money to education while keeping tax increases and exemption closures to a minimum. Democrats contend the Republicans' non-education cuts are too drastic, and extra revenue is needed so education can be improved without crippling other programs. Also, each side questions how the other put together its budget, focusing on the various accounting moves.

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Posted Fri, Jun 21, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

So Senate Republicans will set aside their non-budget policy bills if the Democratic majoriity in the House yields on seeking $208 million through the closure of six tax loopholes.

But didn't the Democratic majority in the House already make revenue concessions by not extending a 0.3 percentage-point B&O; surcharge applied to business services ($534 million) or the surcharge on breweries and other beer distributors ($58 million)?

As things currently stand, the House has already conceded about two-thirds of what they were seeking while the Senate has barely moved an inch.

Seems like it's only fair for the Senate to play catch-up on compromise before suggesting any new quid pro quo on budget-related revenue versus non-budgetary policy bills.

Posted Sat, Jun 22, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate


The Senate is not really interested in improving education. In fact they're really not interested in improving anything other than the corporate bottom line. Few of the education reform bills they have introduced have anything do with actually improving student performance. What most of the bills do is either attack teacher job security, or place the burden of paying for the funding of other education programs on the backs of education professionals by attacking their salaries, retirement plans and benefit packages.

You see a cheaper labor force is better for their bottom line and makes it easier to fund education by robbing Peter to pay Paul. First you cut salaries and take away TRI to the tune of 3 percent. Then if you take away the COLA (which seems to be the plan) the money can be redirected to other programs too. Your not really adding any new money to the equation, but you can claim that your funding education (half truths are a favorite ploy among politicians). The problem is, the program which most research says gives you the best bang for your buck is lowering class size. By the way we've recently slipped from 44th in the nation to 47th in the nation in class size. The Senate has made no attempt to do this.

Next, if you take away part time teacher and other education professionals benefits, that money can go into another educational program too. Since this could be a huge amount, perhaps they will lower class sizes with this money (though I would not hold my breath on this one).

As for the retirement plans. This is really a great idea (sarcastically speaking). Pension plans are basically out of the reach of politicians and the corporate world to play with unless they (the politicians) abolish them. The pensions work like this: Education professionals (depending on which plan they are on) contribute to their plan as do the districts. It's not a huge investment but it is continuous. This, over time has resulted in a very successful and stable program with a lot of money available. Now we're not talking pensions in the neighborhood of those that retired in Deal, California were making, or anything like the USPS pension plans. We're talking a couple thousand a month for those in the best of circumstances after they retire. The problem is, money that districts contribute to pension plans can be reallocated to other education programs if pension plans no longer exist. So the Senate plan seems to be to do away with them. More money that is now available for those that don't really need it.

As for attacking teacher job security, the Senate wrote and passed what they call "the mutual consent bill." The Senate Republicans rationale was that it was needed so that principals could select the teachers they wanted to come into their buildings (since they were ultimately responsible for student success). My real problem with this bill is not so much in the concept but in the language they used in writing it. Really, if you genuinely wanted to write a mutual consent bill, why did they simply stipulate that teachers transferring from one building due to a teacher interest in coming into a building needed to be mutually agreed to by both parties? If a job is available in one building and a teacher holds a job in another building. It must be mutually agreed that the transfer would be ok. That's simple language and, at least, implies mutual consent. If you wanted to write a bill that has other purposes, call it what it is. Why not call it a state wise transfer policy bill. But see, principals already have the power in many cases. In fact, principals already meet with any potential teacher considering a transfer and they already directly influence a decision (if you are the teacher) to reconsider. This however was not their real aim. They were speaking in half truths. The real aim was to by pass collective bargaining and introduce into law a policy that made it possible that administrators could fire a teacher "with cause" by displacing them in the position they held and do it so that the evaluation was not the only tool needed to do so. Remember the bill says the evaluation must be considered along with other possibilities.

I heard Senator Hill, on the 17th say that he won't put more "new" money into a broken system. Funny, he and his group didn't have any problem taking 2.6 billion out of education during the past two years. He's been part of the group that he now vilifies and what he calls "broken" but he doesn't want to take any responsibility for it. Further he doesn't want to put back even the old money (which he's calling new) so that those programs that were helping kids learn can go back to doing exactly that. Seems like he needs to do more work on his priorities.

Posted Sun, Jun 23, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Crosscut seems so in love with the doofus Rodney Tom.

Every week another article, the same old doofy photo. Spare us.

Posted Mon, Jun 24, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

The state does not have a revenue problem when you realize that it gives away about half of it's revenue via tax expenditures aka tax exemptions. It is all done off budget. The budget the legislature deals with and votes on is what is leftover after tax expenditures are given out.

To understand the scope of the problem look at the latest Washington State Tax Exemption report dated 2012. See http://dor.wa.gov/content/aboutus/statisticsandreports/2012/tax_exemptions_2012/default.aspx

Looking at B&O; taxes on business for the 2011-2013 biennial budget cycle, on B&O; taxes - the state gave out 176 tax breaks totaling some $7.5 billion while collecting only $6.5 billion in revenue. The exemptions were 54% of the potential tax base.

It's time to reform the budget process and put tax expenditures back into the state budget process by creating a Tax Expenditure Budget that has to be voted on by the State Legislature every two years.

Right now we are only looking at about half of the expenditures the state is making. When you look at combined B&O; and sales and use tax exemptions for the same 2011 to 2013 budget cycle, the state collected some $21 billion in revenue but gave out $20 billion in tax expenditures.

So all the discussion now being held over the "budget" really is only covering about half of the expenditures the state makes from its tax base. Rodney Tom and the Republicans in the Senate are more than willing to cut hundreds of millions from specific programs in the budget the legislature currently is considering but isn't willing to consider cutting anything from tax expenditures - a number of which the Legislature's own JLARC review process has recommended could be cut.

Tom's and the Senate Republican's supposed fiscal budget is like someone dieting saying they are going to reduce their eating by cutting back on meat and potatoes but saying that the amount of dessert they eat is not to be considered.

Tax Sanity at www.taxsanity.org is working on an initiative campaign to include tax expenditures as a Tax Expenditure Budget in the Legislative budget process. It's time to deal with the total budget of the state, not just what's left over after tax expenditures are given out. Currently some 640 tax expenditures exist in Washington State.

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