House Democrats push home their budget proposal

Pointed rhetoric but no surprises as the Legislature prepares for behind-the-scenes negotiations.
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Pointed rhetoric but no surprises as the Legislature prepares for behind-the-scenes negotiations.

A $34.5 billion proposed budget passed through the Washington House Friday with little fuss.

The vote was 54-43 along party lines, with Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, being the only person to cross the aisle. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, was absent.

This sets up probably weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Senate's leaders with their $33.2 billion budget proposal.

"This is a little like a 'can't-say-no' budget," argued Minority Floor Leader Rep J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

Chief Democratic House budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said: "We don't give anybody everything they want."

The House Republicans' budget chief, Rep Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, referred to the budget's $1.34 billion worth of closing tax exemptions and extending beer and service-related business-and-occupation taxes: "This adds a $1.3 billion in new tax increases on our citizens when they can least afford it."

"I say 'yes' for closing loopholes on a few in order to open opportunities for all," said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle.

Extending expiring taxes and closing tax exemptions would pay for $1.3 billon worth of education improvements mandated by the Washington Supreme Court. This is a down payment on more than $4 billion worth of improvements to be installed by 2018.

In broad strokes, the $34.5 billion House budget would have $337 million left at the end of the 2013-2015 biennium. The Senate budget — passed 30-18 a week ago — is $33.29 billion with $611 million left over.

The House budget cuts some social and health services. The Senate budget trims health and human services by more. Although nine Democrats voted for the no-new-revenues Senate budget for various reasons, more than half of those nine did not like it and believe new revenues should be sought.

The House proposal would eliminate 15 tax exemptions, totaling $751 million. The Senate wants to keep all tax exemptions intact, which echoes the House Republicans' position.

The House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee want to keep two taxes from expiring on June 30: a beer tax and a 0.3 percent business-and-operations tax intact on doctors, lawyers and other services. The House version trims the beer tax a little. Inslee's version would expand the beer tax from large operations to include small craft breweries. Consequently, the House version would put $592.7 million into the 2013-2015 budget, while Inslee's version would raise $661 million. The Senate version has those taxes expiring.

However, the Senate version would extend an expiring hospital safety-net tax by six years, raising $238 million for 2013-2015. The House and Inslee allow that tax to expire this year.

On 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. Inslee's proposal is somewhat similar. The Senate proposal is tailored to create a 3 percent tuition reduction.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8