OLYMPIA — Democrats in the House pushed through a $900 million package of tax changes they say is designed to improve public schools, but Republicans insisted were job-killers.
On a 50-47 vote, it passed and sent to the Senate a bill that repeals or narrows nine tax preferences and extends a business tax increase on some professional services. The Senate has already passed a general operating budget with no new taxes, so this sets the stage for full-blown budget negotiations over the next four days, and possibly longer.
The 105-day legislative session ends Sunday. If a budget compromise is not reached and passed in both houses by then, a special session will be needed.
Under orders from the state Supreme Court to improve the public schools, House Democrats said they should expand education programs in part by closing or shrinking some tax preferences, credits or exemptions.
“I don't like the business and occupation tax, but what I like even less is is an uneducated work force,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said.
But the state expects to collect some $2 billion more in revenue from existing taxes in 2013-15 than it did over the last two years, Republicans said. It doesn't need new taxes to spend more on schools. But some businesses that rely on those tax breaks are existing on thin margins and may close.
“The best thing we can do for children who are at risk… is make sure their parents have jobs that support them,” Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said.
The money raised by the changes in tax exemptions and an extension of what was instituted in 2010 as a temporary tax would go into a trust fund for education programs. The Legislature should have the courage to vote yes for the state's children, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said.
“We could have solved this entire thing if we had funded education first… or if we live within our means,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley said.