State Senate leaders cool to House plan to cut spending

Staff writerJune 5, 2013 

In a bid to break a budget logjam, House Democrats put a new offer on the table Wednesday that sharply reduces their previous spending targets and tax-hike plans.

The new proposal cuts $790 million in spending from the Democrats’ original plans and jettisons $800 million in new tax revenues previously sought.

A Republican-led coalition that runs the Senate immediately threw cold water on the plan, claiming Democrats were failing to pay for children’s education first.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the new budget proposal represents a major move toward the Senate GOP’s position. The full House could vote on it Thursday. The Legislature’s 30-day special session runs out Tuesday.

“We’re clearly going more than halfway” to the Republican-led Senate’s no-new-taxes position, Sullivan said in an interview, noting the Democrats’ request for new revenue is less than half its original goal and its spending reductions were “significant.”

Among tax proposals left by the wayside was a permanent extension of a business-and-occupations tax surcharge on service businesses. But the plan does include about $340 million in new revenues – including two tax changes in response to state Supreme Court rulings on the estate tax and telecommunications, which could cost the state millions if lawmakers don’t act.

Democrats from both the House and Senate stood together in offering the budget proposal. Gov. Jay Inslee also lent his praise, but the offer didn’t unlock the door to agreement with the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.

“I am disappointed that this House budget proposal is balanced on the backs of Washington’s school kids,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat, said in a statement. “…We in the Senate will continue to work with our House colleagues to seek a workable compromise, but we will not let political expediency stand in the way of fulfilling our obligation to provide for our schools.”

Republican Sen. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup praised Democrats’ concessions to lower the overall spending level, back away from taxes and leave the state’s rainy-day fund untouched. But he objected to taking the reductions from what was proposed to be spent on schools.

“They have backed away from (a) commitment to making that the state’s paramount duty,” he said.

It does appear that the House proposal puts less new money into K-12 education than the Senate did to answer a state Supreme Court ruling that Washington was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education.

The Senate plan puts about $886 million in new funds. House Appropriations chairman Ross Hunter said the Democrats would put in $704 million by one measure and about $800 million by another.

But the House Democrats’ plan also has a separate option to raise an additional $255 million for K-12 schools by closing seven tax breaks on bottled water, oil refineries, high-tech research, travel agents and tour operators and others.

Some House Democrats also are leery of the plan. Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said the new budget amendment may be a bad negotiating move if Republicans in the other chamber have no interest in actually reaching an agreement.

Reykdal suggested that some Senate Republicans may be seeking a government shutdown and said he was not yet sure he could vote for the new compromise bill.

“There is serious heartburn,” he said. “It’s a $900 million compromise off our original revenue proposal. But it’s not a deal with the Republicans. It’s a hope that that much compromise will get us to the table in a meaningful way. I don’t think that is a good way to do negotiations.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688
Jordan Schrader contributed to this report.

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