State Senate, House release supplemental budget plans

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — House and Senate Democrats on Monday released their separate supplemental state budget proposals and will soon start negotiations to reach a final plan they can pass before the legislative session ends in a little more than two weeks.

Budget leaders released their plans Monday, hours before public hearings were to be held on the proposals. Each chamber looks to pass their plan off their respective floors by this weekend, and negotiations are expected to start next week.

Each plan looks to increase spending in a variety of areas, including efforts on reducing homelessness, adding more social supports — like nurses and counselors — for students, and salmon recovery.

Both reflect the significant increase in revenues the state has seen over the last year, with the $63.4 billion Senate budget adding about $5.8 billion in new spending to the two-year budget passed by lawmakers last April, and the approximately $65 billion House budget adding $6.2 billion in new spending.

No general tax increases are included in the proposal, which builds off of the $59 billion two-year spending plan adopted by the Legislature earlier this year. That’s in part because of about $1.3 billion in unspent pandemic-related federal relief funds and the fact that the state has seen a steady recovery of state revenues since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate uses all of those federal funds in their budget proposal, while the House banks nearly a billion of it in reserves.

The most recent numbers presented last month by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council showed that projected revenue collection for the 2021-2023 budget cycle is more than $1.4 billion above what had been forecasted in November. And projections for the next two-year budget cycle that ends in mid-2025 increased by more than $1.3 billion.

“It’s evident that after two difficult and challenging years, our state is in a strong position to come roaring back,” Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes, the key budget writer in the Senate, said at a news conference Monday. “It’s time to look beyond the pandemic and our proposal does just that.”

The Senate plan leaves $3.3 billion in reserves, and the House has about $2.2 billion, including the pandemic money it is banking for future use.

The House plan includes a sales tax holiday over Labor Day weekend for purchases under $1,000, and $200 million in grants for hospitality businesses, including restaurants and hotels that were hit hard during the pandemic.

Democratic Rep. Noel Frame said these types of investments “are just some of the tools that we can use to spur economic growth.”

Republicans, who have called for property tax cuts and other tax breaks in light of the influx of state revenues, decried the lack of broad tax relief in the measures.

“The message from the majority is that there will never be a good time to let taxpayers keep more of their own money — which is not the way to rebuild public trust in government,” Republican Sen. Lynda Wilson said in a statement.

The 60-day legislative session ends March 10.