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Senate Majority Coalition’s budget plan has a big question

Sen. Rodney Tom during a public discussion of transportation (2013) Credit: Credit: John Stang

The Washington Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is expected to unveil its proposed supplemental budget for fiscal 2014 on Monday.

Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, gave that word on timing to about 125 people Saturday at a 48th Legislative District's town hall meeting in Redmond. The district's Reps. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, also attended.

The big question, which Tom did not address Saturday, is whether the coalition's supplemental budget proposal will have any additional money in it. The coalition has toyed with the idea of not having a supplemental budget,which is a fiscal adjustment measure. The Legislature almost always writes a supplemental in the second year of a budget biennium to deal with miscalculations or new conditions such as unexpectedly large needs for services or reduced revenues. But no major 2013-2015 budget glitches have shown up this year.

Tom said the 24-Republican-two-Democrat alliance expects to announce its budget proposal Monday, with a Senate Ways & Means Committee public hearing on it set for Tuesday. He expected the Senate to pass its supplemental budget proposal shortly afterward.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants $200 million to $400 million in the supplemental budget — $200 million for routine budget adjustments, and up to another $200 million for teacher cost-of-living raises and Washington Supreme Court-order education improvements. The House Democrats want a supplemental budget, but have been mum on how much they believe it should be. The House proposal could be unveiled a few days after the coalition's budget announcement.

If the majority coalition offers a supplemental budget proposal without new spending, it would raise the possibility of a budget deadlock less than three weeks before the sessions is supposed to end on March 13. The majority coalition and House Democrats had a poor record on resolving budget impasses last year. However, Tom and Hunter, the House's lead budget writer, said they will try to finish all budget business by March 13, heading off any repeat of the extra sessions that occurred last year. 

Also Saturday, Tom joined Habib and Hunter in saying he would support a bill by Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, to close a $41 million-per-biennium tax break for five state oil refineries. A question will be whether the majority coalition — traditionally opposed to virtually all tax hikes and closures of tax exemptions — will support ending this tax break. However, Tom said getting a compromise between the majority coalition and the House Democrats on a long-stalled transportation revenue package takes priority over closing this tax break.

The tax break closure is a resurrection of a bill that the Republicans blocked in the 2013. Inslee has called for closing seven tax breaks to raise an extra $200 million to help comply with the Supreme Court's 2012 McCleary order on school finances. The oil-refineries bill has the only obvious momentum of any of Inslee's tax-break-closure proposals.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.

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