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Senate, House inch toward each other on debt limit

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm with No Comments »
May 17, 2011 3:23 pm

For a while now, the Senate and House have been arguing about whether the state debt ceiling should stay the same — 9 percent of state revenue — or be lowered to 7 percent.

Now they’re inching toward each other.

Senators are offering 7.25 percent and agreeing to let the rate fall more gradually over many years; House members offer 8.5 percent as the rate to be enshrined in the state constitution and propose a more informal rate of 8 percent.

Rep. Hans Dunshee‘s proposal, the 8 percent lid that could be adjusted over time, passed the House Capital Budget Committee today on a 6-5 vote that broke across party lines.

GOP Reps. Hans Zeiger of Edgewood and Norma Smith of Coupeville said it didn’t go far enough to reduce unsustainable levels of debt. Attacking it from the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Kristine Lytton of Anacortes  said lawmakers’ hands shouldn’t be tied in tough economic times, and her fellow Democrats Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma and Steve Tharinger of Sequim said they don’t think state debt levels are such a big problem.

State Treasurer Jim McIntire says Washington is in the top 10 among states in several measures of debt, and Zeiger said today the state has a “serious debt problem.” But Jinkins said borrowing 6-7 percent of income makes the state more frugal than the average person or business. “I reject the idea that we have a debt problem in this state,” Jinkins said.

That odd coalition was outvoted by another one: Democrats Dunshee, Jim Moeller of Vancouver and Timm Ormsby of Spokane and Republicans Judy Warnick of Moses Lake, Kirk Pearson of Monroe and Katrina Asay of Milton. They said moving the bill along would allow negotiations to continue.

“I don’t know if we’re going to make that deal,” Dunshee acknowledged. But he said he tried to find “middle ground” and he’s willing to talk more, even though he thinks reducing the limit will shift the state to more expensive kinds of borrowing and put more of a burden on local governments.

The Senate debt amendment authors, Democrat Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Republican Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, say Dunshee’s proposal doesn’t do enough to reduce interest payments, which they want to do to free up money for state programs. But they see progress. Parlette said it’s “a step forward” that the House now agrees the constitution should be changed.

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