OLYMPIA – In the end, a state government shutdown wasn’t really that close. There were 20 whole minutes to spare.
With the Legislature lurching toward adjournment and the clock ticking toward midnight and a partial government shutdown, Gov. Jay Inslee signed budgets Tuesday night to keep state government operating for the next two years.
At 11:40 p.m., Inslee signed the $38.2 billion operating budget and the $3.9 billion capital construction budget, the latter barely an hour after it passed the Senate. He had delayed signing the operating budget, which passed Monday night, as legislators maneuvered for votes for a third spending plan that would raise the gasoline tax by 11.9 cents in the next two years and fund some $16 billion of transportation projects for 16 years. That would pass the House early Wednesday morning and be returned to the Senate for approval of an amendment.
He had to sign the two budgets by midnight to give state agencies the authority to continue programs and pay workers when the state’s new fiscal year starts today. The governor and legislative leaders had vowed Saturday they would have a budget and avoid a shutdown, but it took them three full days to work out the details and round up the votes.
Inslee described the operating budget as “an amalgam of ideas that represent the totality of our state.”
That amalgamation took 103 days of the regular session, two 30-day special sessions and two days of a third special session to get the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate controlled by Republicans to negotiate an agreement.
It has historic investment in public education, Inslee and legislative leaders said, with $1.3 billion dedicated to improving schools to help satisfy a Supreme Court contempt order for failing to meet the state’s constitutional obligation. It also helps thousands of college students by lowering tuition, provides more services for mental health patients, gives raises to state workers and public school employees, and sends an extra $20 million on to the Parks Department for staffing and maintenance to improve those facilities for “people who enjoy frolicking in our state parks,” Inslee said.
After Inslee signed the two budget bills, the Legislature continued past midnight on several unfinished items.
The Senate bogged down Tuesday on the passage of a bill to limit class reductions to kindergarten through third grade, an effort to revise voter-approved Initiative 1351, which calls for reductions in all grades. Because the initiative passed just last November, the change required a two-thirds majority in both houses. It got that Monday in the House, but the ranks of strong supporters among Senate Republicans were whittled down by absences and Senate Democrats whose districts had backed the initiative and were reluctant to sign on to the changes.
The House delayed a vote on the transportation package while legislative leaders did counts to assure they had the simple majority needed to pass the new taxes and fees. Many Republicans were reluctant to raise taxes, and some Democrats were unhappy with a provision that limits the state’s ability to impose carbon reduction standards or wanted more money for local projects.
Voting on that bill began after midnight and continued into what one legislator called “the dark of the morning.” Republicans tried but failed to add an amendment that would automatically send the tax increases to the ballot for voter approval — something Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, called a stall tactic.
“Let’s do what we were sent here to do,” Riccelli said, later urging a vote for the package he said was good for Spokane and would keep the community moving forward.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, predicted the higher gasoline taxes will have some drivers going to Idaho to buy gas, and could prompt businesses to move out of the state. “Tax and spend isn’t a solution. It’s shackling our kids and grand kids,” he said.
The transportation package passed the House on a 54-44 vote, but because of an amendment it was sent back to the Senate for another vote.
Earlier Tuesday, each chamber passed bills that set up policies or programs that were needed for the operating budget passed Monday night, such as reduced tuition for the state’s colleges and universities.
The House approved the capital budget on a 96-2 vote in the evening and the Senate followed with a 44-1 vote about 10 p.m., sending Inslee the $3.9 billion spending plan that sets aside $200 million on new classrooms for the state’s youngest students. It has hundreds of projects all over the state for schools, colleges, parks and the environment, drought relief and wildfire protection. It has a wide range for the Spokane area, among them:
$19.1 million total for projects at Eastern Washington University, including %$4.8 million for the University Science Center Building 1
$7.5 million for the Newtech Skill Center for Spokane Public Schools
$4 million total for projects at Mount Spokane State Park
$2.8 million for building work for Community Colleges of Spokane
$2.2 million for the Fairchild Air Force Base Community Empowerment Project, which would buy 20 acres to develop affordable housing and assist the county in the purchase of mobile home parks near the base
$990,000 for the Spokane Valley Technical Skills Center
$300,000 each for the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, the Spokane Women’s Club and the Corbin Senior Center