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House approves $34.5B budget on 54-to-43 vote

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on April 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm with No Comments »
April 12, 2013 7:34 pm
Rep. Ross Hunter
Rep. Ross Hunter
Rep. Gary Alexander
Rep. Gary Alexander

The House budget battle with the state Senate is joined. By a 54-to-43 vote, House Democrats pushed through a $34.5 billion budget bill to fund Washington state government operations for 2013-15 on Friday. It  spends $1.3 billion more than what the Republican-steered Senate passed on a bipartisan vote one week ago.

The House plan also requires  $1.3 billion in new revenues. Only one Democrat, freshman Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver, crossed over to join Republicans, all of whom voted no.

Rachel LaCorte of The Associated Press has the story here:

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state House on Friday approved a budget that assumes $1.3 billion in new revenue to put more money into the state’s education system, while also patching a projected deficit for the next two-year budget.

The budget passed on a 54-43 mostly party line vote Friday night, a week after the Senate passed its own plan. Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver was the only Democrat to vote against the measure.

The House and Senate will have to work out their budget differences before the April 28 end of the regular session if they want to avoid going into special session.

Similar to a budget proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, the plan by House Democrats would increase government spending by more than 10 percent, compared to the Senate plan that increases it by about 7 percent. The two-year budget would spend $34.5 billion, more than $1 billion beyond a plan approved by the Senate. The tax package proposed by Democrats, targeting tax exemptions, will be voted on separately at a later date.

Lawmakers would increase K-12 education funding by $1.9 billion, with $1.3 billion dedicated in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that says the state isn’t adequately funding basic education.

“We think this is a solid budget,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, a Democrat from Medina who is the top budget writer in the House. “It’s a balanced, responsible approach to both the long and short term problems we face.”

The plan to pay for the spending still has to be approved by the House. Along with permanently extending some business and beer taxes to raise nearly $600 million, House Democrats support closing or narrowing 15 tax exemptions on things ranging from repealing preferential business tax rates for travel agents and insurance agents, to repealing the sales tax exemption on janitorial services.

The plan would repeal the sales tax exemption on bottled water, and it would also repeal the sales tax break for residents who live in states that don’t have a sales tax, like Oregon.

The House Republican budget lead, Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, said that the assumption of taxes comes at a time when people “can least afford it.”

Other exemptions for landline phone service and the estates of married couples are targeted, partly in response to court rulings. Those changes raise $270 million. The budget also relies on $750 million in fund transfers, including $575 million from the so-called “rainy day” account.

However, except in limited circumstances, a 60 percent vote is needed to take money from that fund, and Hunter has acknowledged that the votes for that do not yet exist in the House.

During the budget release on Wednesday, Hunter said that how much of the rainy day fund to use will be worked out during negotiations with the Senate.

“My expectation is that we’ll come to a bipartisan agreement with the Senate and at that point we’ll have agreed upon how much are we going to leave in the rainy day fund and how much are we going to leave in usable, flexible reserve,” he said.

House budget writers avoided some of the Senate’s deep cuts in social services, such as keeping more funding for a childcare program for the working poor. However, they continue to assume tuition increases between 3 percent and 5 percent per year.

The House suspends the voter-approved cost-of-living raises for teachers, saving the state more than $320 million. Under the budget passed by the Senate last week, those raises are repealed permanently.

As the Senate did, the House also moves forward with Medicaid expansion under the new federal health care law, with the assumption the move will save the state $265 million.

Democrats have a 55-43 majority in the House. The Senate is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, though seven other Democrats voted on the budget that passed the chamber last week on a 30-18 vote


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