The state Legislature begins its 30-day special session today. The question is whether much progress has been made in two weeks of closed-door negotiations.
Gov. Jay Inslee believes some progress has been made, but did not want to publicly discuss the talks last week because that would violate an agreement to keep the negotiations confidential, said Inslee spokesman David Postman.
"We still have a ways to go," said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
When the legislative session ended April 28 the Republican-oriented Senate and the House-controlled House were far apart on what the 2013-2015 state operating budget should be. Sullivan said the current talks have been focused on budget matters. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the Senate's lead budget negotiator, could not be reached last week for comment.
Last Thursday, 15 people from Hill's 45th District — who also belong to the Washington Conservation Voters and Environmental Priorities Coalition — gave him a petition with 5,000 signatures that asked him to eliminate a use tax exemption for extracted fuel, which covers a factory or commercial operation's byproducts that are used internally as fuel. The exemption would continue for "hog fuel," which is made from wood byproducts at sawmills and similar facilities. Five oil refineries west of the Cascade Mountains would be affected. And an extra $40.8 million would go to the state in 2013-2015. The petitioners want that money to go to education.
The petition is just the beginning. Both sides, not to mention Inslee, have lists of blocked bills that they want passed this session — with everyone expecting eventual horsetrading.
Here is the impasse that faced the House and Senate two weeks ago.
- Operating budget
- The House proposes a $34.33 billion operating budget for 2013-2015.
- The Senate wants a $33.21 billion budget.
- Raised revenues
- The House wants to repeal 11 tax exemptions and extend a business-and-occupations tax for service firms to raise $1.169 billion to pay for educational improvements called for by a Washington Supreme Court ruling.
- The Senate contends the Supreme Court improvements can be met with $1 billion and with no new revenue, which would mean keeping those 11 tax exemptions on the books.
- Social and health services
- The Senate wants to cut social and health services significantly to make the budget's parts fit together.
- The House wants to trim those services only a little.
- Money shuffling
- 'êThe House budget depends on removing $575 million from the state's emergency-related "rainy day fund." The accounting requires approval of 60 percent of the House — 59 votes out of 98. The House Democrats number 55, meaning they have to convince four Republicans to cross the aisle from a caucus that has extremely strong party discipline.
- The Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus budget depends on a $166 million shift from a school construction fund to an operational fund. Democrats say that move is unconstitutional. Republicans say it’s perfectly legal. Each side has attorneys citing different sentences in the Washington Constitution. Sullivan said the only way to resolve that issue would be to take it to court. The Majority Coalition Caucus also wants to take $321 million in teacher cost-of-living raises to fund other school improvements in its $1 billion education fix-it plan. Democrats counter that the $321 million is from a fund with no money in it.
Inslee also wants several dead policy bills to be revived.
- The DREAM Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a chance to apply for state scholarships to college.
- The Reproductive Parity Act, which would address abortion insurance
- A transportation budget-and-projects package
- A gun-background-check bill
- Tougher legislation on repeat drunk drivers
Republican leaders say the DREAM Act, Reproductive Parity Act and any revival of a gun background check bill are not budget measures, and should not be considered in the budget negotiations.
Meanwhile, Republican and Majority Coalition Caucus leaders are considering several workers compensation reform and education reform bills, which House Democrats have stopped, as part of their budget. They say that any budget compromise must include the House passing those bills.
For more exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.