OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature picked up Monday where it left off Thursday, trying to close an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.
Legislative leaders said they were closer to agreeing on how much to cut and spend, and how much to raise in taxes, but didn’t release figures.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she remains opposed to an increase in the sales tax, which is part of the Senate’s tax increase plan, and is pushing what she calls “targeted revenue,” a series of smaller increases in other taxes, to raise money.
Because time ran out for the regular session, the Legislature had to reboot some bills, sending those that had passed one house but not the other back to the original chamber. So the Senate had to vote again on its supplemental spending bill, allowing both parties to reargue the bill that passed Feb. 27 with the bare minimum of 25 votes.
State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgeview, said that for all the talk of economic cuts, the budget still adds $350 million in new spending and will need nearly $1 billion in new taxes to make it balance.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and other Democrats argued that the new spending is a result of more children in school, higher costs for health care, and programs that crack down on violent criminals, which had near unanimous support earlier this year in the wake of six law enforcement officer killings in Western Washington.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said those new programs are admirable, but they didn’t have to increase the budget: “We should be looking for offsets.”
Brown said in a separate interview that passing the Senate budget is the first step in the negotiating process between chambers. It now goes to the House, which is expected to strip out the Senate proposal and substitute its own spending plan. After that, she said, “we’ll have to get in a room with the governor and work things out.”
The Senate reapproved, unanimously, a business and occupation tax credit for any small business that hires a new worker for at least 150 percent of minimum wage and health care.