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Spin Control

Budget agreement reached

OLYMPIA-Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative negotiators announce they've reached a deal on the state's operating budget. (Jim Camden)
OLYMPIA-Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative negotiators announce they've reached a deal on the state's operating budget. (Jim Camden)

Inslee and legislative leaders say there's a budget deal.

OLYMPIA – After 150 days of debating, posturing and negotiating legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee reached agreement Thursday – Day 151 – on a $33.6 billion spending plan to carry many state programs through the next two fiscal years.

"State government will continue to operate," Inslee said.

The deal should be passed by both houses and on his desk by 5 p.m. today, Inslee said in a brief announcement attended by a bipartisan group of 10 legislators. He released no details of the agreement, but legislative leaders later offered only some broad outlines of the deal, either in meetings with their rank and file members or to the press.

Among them:

* An extra $1 billion on public schools, a jump in spending necessitated by a state Supreme Court ruling that the state is falling down on its constitutional duty to children’s education. It will expand programs for all-day kindergarten around the state and decrease class sizes in lower grades, add 80 hours of instruction for middle and high schools and put more state money into maintenance and transportation costs.

 * A freeze in tuition for public colleges and universities for the coming school year, and only allow an increase next year if the schools add money to the state need grants for low-income students.

* Health insurance for about 300,000 low-income people through use of the federal Affordable Care Act

* A change in tax policy on phone service which extends a tax that cell phone users to land-line phones

* Ends temporary taxes on beer and service businesses on Sunday.

It does require cuts in some social service programs, including temporary aid to needy families and some increases in state employee benefit programs, including a $25 per month charge in health care rates for smokers and a $50 per month fee for keeping a spouse on state insurance if that person has comparable insurance with another employer.

“There are no big ‘trophy cuts,’” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said, a term legislators sometimes use to describe high-profile political reductions to the budget.

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the budget will put an extra $1 billion into public education, freezes college tuition for two years and "lives within our means." 

"All the numbers are done," Hill said later. "Over the last 24 hours we've been doing the negotiations on the little stuff."

While negotiations have not been open to the public, Hill said "everything you'll see in the budget has been pretty well vetted" during hearings and votes on previous budget proposals. But he couldn't guarantee that there's nothing in the final budget agreement that didn't have a public hearing.

"I think it's a budget that has broad appeal," he said.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said in a prepared statement that it would also extend health care coverage to 300,000 people and "maintians vital services for our most vulnerable."

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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