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Washington state Senate proposes $38 billion budget with no tax increases

by caprecord

A proposed $38 million 2015-17 budget was rolled out Tuesday by the Washington state Senate, headed by the Republican-run Majority Coalition Caucus.

The budget, which increases funding over the two years by $4.1 billion from current spending, contains no tax increases, and instead relies on a $3 billion increased revenue due to economic growth, lean cuts in government, moving $325 million expected in tax revenue from retail marijuana sales to the general fund and allowing several tax breaks to expire.

Sen. Andy Hill
Sen. Andy Hill

“You can see by this budget, we’re not just scraping by,” said lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill. “It’s clear we can make significant positive investments without putting jobs or our economy at risk.”

The budget increases spending in K-12 education by $1.3 billion, as well as $95 million for preschool and the Early Start Act.

The Senate budget also proposes an average 25 percent cut in college tuition at the state’s four year institutions. Hill said tuition has been rising steadily for decades, which amounts to “nothing more than a hidden tax on the those we depend most on our future.”

Teachers in the K-12 system will get the cost of living increases in accordance with Initiative 732. Other state workers will get a $2,000 raise over two years, no matter what their current level of pay. That’s different from the labor contracts negotiated by the governor’s office.

The Senate budget raises about $38 million by allowing more than a dozen tax breaks to expire, including the alternative fuel vehicle sales tax break.

Like the House Democrats proposal, the Senate’s version reduces class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, short of what voters approved in Initiative 1351. Republican lawmakers plan to send the altered initiative back to voters.

The budget proposal will be heard in committee at 3:30 p.m. in Senate Ways & Means. Hill says that the Senate hopes to have the budget moved off the floor by Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, says the proposed budget relies too much on reducing the negotiated pay increases to state workers, lean management and moving money from the capital budget.

“If $3 billion is enough and sustainable for our future as far as our growth, then why are they having to rely on other sources of revenue. To me they’ve already admitted the budget doesn’t balance without other revenue,” Nelson said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Finance committee, released a joint statement on the proposal.

“Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have given us an unsustainable budget that relies on gimmicks, gambles and a lot of marijuana. It is a budget that barely provides short-term relief to long-term problems,” they said.

The House’s proposal includes a capital gains tax would raise about $570 million for the two-year budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who also has called for a capital gains tax, questioned in a prepared statement whether the budget could keep pace with future costs.

“Washington’s current tax system is unfair and it does not keep pace with our state’s obligations to educate our children, support our most vulnerable citizens, and protect our natural resources.”

Budget documents are available on the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program website.