March 13, 2014

Washington budget deal announced

Votes expected today
By The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA — A supplemental budget that raises no taxes, offers no new tax loopholes and provides no state-funded raises for teachers is expected to be pushed through the Legislature today on a fast track.

Budget negotiators unveiled their negotiated spending plan to the public at lunchtime, using words like “modest”, “stable” and “pretty small.”

It will send an extra $58 million to public schools around the state for books and supplies. It will spend an extra $25 million on Opportunity Scholarships for college students, $22 million on mental health services and $4 million to expand prison capacity.

But some items that prompted major political arguments over the last two months are not in the budget. There is no cost-of-living adjustment for public school teachers, something Democrats in both chambers said they wanted. There are no new taxes, or increases of existing taxes, that would have paid for those raises. There are no major new or extended tax exemptions, which were supported by Republicans.

It is a traditional supplemental budget, legislators said, making small adjustments in the two-year spending plan approved in 2013 after two extensions to that legislative session. It is unlike recent supplemental budgets, which were essentially rewrites of previous spending plans made inoperable because of changing revenue estimates in the recession.

And it leaves until next year a major fight over public schools, which the Legislature is under a state Supreme Court mandate to improve. The Legislature will need to come up with at least $2.2 billion for school programs, and perhaps another $1 billion for school employee wages, for the 2015-17 biennium to satisfy that court order.

The budget is scheduled to be put to a vote in the House late this afternoon and be sent to the Senate for a vote later in the evening. That means the Legislature will suspend several rules that allow time for the public to see legislation, and for members to read and consider it.

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