A request by The Boeing Co. and Senate Republicans for additional research into fish-consumption risks and a dispute over public disclosure for tax-break recipients were among the several smaller issues holding up the Legislature’s quest to finish an operating budget deal Wednesday.
Lawmakers are racing to get a deal by Friday and have it signed quickly by Gov. Jay Inslee to avert a partial shutdown of government on Monday, the first day of the new budget cycle.
They have made progress: A dispute over sending part-time state and K-12 workers into the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange to get health coverage appeared to have been settled by an agreement to make it voluntary for some unions. And the legislative chambers agreed to freeze college tuition in the first year of the budget cycle, while allowing institutions with tuition-setting authority to hike tuition by a few percent in the second year — if they put some of the extra money into financial aid.
“They fundamentally are closer than they were,” state budget director David Schumacher said late Wednesday afternoon of the Senate and House negotiators working on an estimated $33.6 billion operating plan. “There’s just a few small but difficult things remaining.’’
One of the most nettlesome issues is a study sought by Boeing before the Department of Ecology sets new fish-consumption standards sought by tribes and others worried about the public health implications of eating large quantities of fish from polluted waters.
The fish standards carry big implications for the handling of storm water that carries toxics into waterways where food fish travel, and Boeing spokeswoman Sue Bradley said tighter standards could constrain the plane maker’s plans for one of its sites.
“We are working to ensure a reasonable solution and achievable water quality standards,” Bradley said in a written statement. “We believe a general population fish consumption survey is a necessary step in the process to ensure the best available information is incorporated into the rulemaking.”
Former Gov. Chris Gregoire had ordered a delay in the fish-consumption rules at Boeing’s request more than a year ago. This time around, it is the Republican-led Senate pushing for Boeing’s position, insisting on a budget proviso to do further surveys on fish eating.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom told reporters that the water-quality rules could force Boeing to set aside 10 acres at its highly productive Renton assembly plant as wetlands.
“In Renton, there is no more space,” said Tom, a Medina Democrat who leads the GOP-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus. “If you take 10 acres off line, what do you do? Do you shut down a couple of manufacturing buildings, bulldoze them, and build wetlands? It’s a huge, huge concern.”
But House Capital Budget Committee chair Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said he had won agreement from House Republicans including Reps. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis and Shelly Short of Addy on language that could accommodate Boeing without delaying rules.
Dunshee said the Senate rejected that agreement. “Do they really want to shut down state government over this?” Dunshee asked. When asked about Tom’s claims about Boeing losing 10 acres of usable land, Dunshee said “If this is about 10 acres, we’ll buy them 10 acres.”
The issue had not been resolved by early Wednesday evening. Tom said he would vote for a final budget lacking a fish-study proviso if no agreement is forged.
Another issue that negotiators hoped to settle is how much financial and workplace disclosure companies must do if they accept tax breaks meant to spur hiring.
The House, led by Finance Committee chair Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, has pushed for stricter limits on tax breaks, including better disclosure or proof that tax breaks are bearing the fruit promised when they are enacted.
Democratic Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland said new tax breaks — and extended tax breaks — are implicated in the fight. One of interest to Shelton and Tacoma lets paper and lumber mills avoid tax for the value of “hog fuel,” a mixture of waste wood and bark, that they use in lieu of purchased fuel to generate energy.
Also reported to be keeping negotiators from a deal are disagreements on education policy and over how money for K-12 schools is spent. The House and Senate have agreed to roughly $1 billion of new investments into K-12 that answer the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that said the state was failing to amply fund basic education.
Lawmakers would secure some of the money needed for education by raiding a public-works account. They had been arguing over whether that transfer should be temporary or permanent, and Tom said they reached a resolution Wednesday — the breakthrough that led his side to jump the gun Wednesday and announce a deal had been struck. Both House Speaker Frank Chopp and a spokesmen for Inslee said that announcement was premature because negotiations were ongoing.
Tom said there would be “substantial transfers” from the public-works 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, Dunshee said. But that will require a bill, which “may or may not have the votes over here” in the House, he said.
Tom said the “framework” was in place for a comprehensive agreement and that budget staff was able to move ahead and begin plugging in numbers as they draft the precise, complicated language of a budget bill. He said it was possible a deal could be struck and voted on by Friday.
Staff writer Jordan Schrader contributed to this report.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688