Gov. Jay Inslee

State lawmakers struggle to finish work on time

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are no closer to a budget deal as they close in on the end of the 105-day legislative session, making it likely that they will need to go into overtime, as they have done with more frequency in recent years.

As they did two years ago, Senate Republicans say they won’t negotiate the overall two-year state budget until House Democrats pass billions of dollars of revenue they have proposed, including a capital gains tax.

Even though Senate Republicans are opposed to the taxes, they argue that it’s impossible to negotiate a compromise without knowing where the entire House Democratic caucus stands on its own plan.

Both chambers passed their respective underlying spending plans last month, but both sides have been accusing the other of not passing all of the bills needed to balance out their proposals.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday that both sides “need to start sincere and diligent negotiations.”

“There’s no excuse for not doing that right now, in my view,” he said.

Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 high court ruling that they must meet the state’s constitutional requirement to fully fund the state’s basic education system.

The court has said that the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to do that, but that the details — including funding — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.

While the state has made progress since the original ruling, the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.

Among the differences between the budgets put forth by both chambers is how they address the local property tax levies. Unlike the Senate plan, which would replace local school levies with a statewide uniform rate earmarked for schools, the House plan would lower the local levy rate, but not eliminate them completely.

Republican Sen. Dino Rossi, one of the budget negotiators, said earlier this week that even though Democratic leadership has repeatedly said they have the votes for their tax bills, they refuse to prove it.

“If you have the votes, you vote, and if you don’t, you talk,” Rossi said. “All they’re doing is talking.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Thursday that time is running out for them to reach a compromise before the regularly scheduled session ends April 23.

Sullivan said that as long as Republican budget negotiators refuse to sit down with them, “it makes it harder for us to finish our work on time.”

“The public expects us to get our work done, and we need to get to the table and get a compromise done,” he said. “We’re very frustrated.”

While the main budget team remains at odds, there are lawmakers who are meeting regularly to discuss the biggest piece of the plan: the education funding piece.

Republican Sen. Ann Rivers said that the bipartisan group, which includes Sullivan, has been meeting several times a week, and that she’s optimistic they’ll have a plan, though she wasn’t certain that it would happen before the clock runs out on the regular session.

“It’s really hard to do the budget until you have this piece,” she said. “I think once we have this done, then other things can happen.”