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Details elude lawmakers, but tentative plan includes education funding, public-works fund transfers

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on June 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm with No Comments »
June 26, 2013 2:10 pm

There are still disagreements on policy in the budget — enough that Democrats are saying there’s no deal yet – but most of the numbers in the state budget have fallen into place.

Sen. Rodney Tom
Sen. Rodney Tom

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said negotiators have settled on a deal that will provide more than $1 billion to meet the McCleary court decision ordering more funding for public schools, while also providing enough money to universities and colleges to keep them from raising tuition.

The budget would raise some tax revenue by resolving a dispute over tax breaks on telecommunications companies but would not make general tax increases, said Tom, the Democrat who leads a mostly Republican majority in the Senate.

It also would find some of the money needed for education by raiding a public-works account. Lawmakers had been arguing over whether that transfer should be temporary or permanent, and Tom said this morning they reached a resolution — the breakthrough that led to his side’s contention that a deal is at hand.

Tom said there would be ”substantial transfers” from the account that makes low-interest infrastructure loans to local governments, which is funded by taxes on utilities and real-estate sales.

Negotiators settled on a six-year transfer, said House Capital Budget chairman Hans Dunshee, a Democrat.

But Dunshee said that will require a bill, which “may or may not have the votes over here” in the House.

Tom acknowledged that some details of the budget are still undecided, including whether to study how much fish people eat, which has implications for water pollution regulations.

But with the broad strokes agreed-to, Tom said universities and colleges would get enough funding to avoid tuition increases for the next two years, even though they would have authority to set tuition in the second year.

“This is by far the best higher education budget that the universities and our families have seen in quite some time,” Tom said.

University of Washington lobbyists said from what they’ve heard of the plan, it would provide enough money to avoid tuition hikes.

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