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Spin Control

Inslee signs most of ‘disappointing’ budget

OLYMPIA – The ink from his signature wasn’t even dry on the Legislature's current budget before Gov. Jay Inslee was challenging lawmakers to do more on their next one.

Inslee signed the state’s supplemental operating budget, vetoing some elements such as a section that would have ended the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

Overall, he called it a budget with “modest adjustments” in many programs and disappointing on education.

“It does not make sufficient progress on the state’s paramount duty to schools,” he said.

Legislators are also disappointed, but more with Inslee’s characterization of their final work product that passed the Senate 48-1 and the House 85-13. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the spending plan, as a supplement to last year’s two-year budget that added almost $1 billion to public schools, was supposed to make modest adjustments.

But it keeps the state in the black, financially, through this fiscal period and the next, Braun said.

“There were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made,” he said. . . .

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. . . One such decision was to move $20 million out of a special fund for the Life Sciences Discovery program, and into the state’s general fund, which pays for a wide range of state programs including public education. Inslee vetoed that section of the budget, calling it “short-sighted” because Life Sciences programs have made the state a leader in health care improvements.

The budget as passed left enough in the special fund to cover current Life Sciences projects, Braun said. But the $20 million the Legislature wanted to take out would help the state meet its upcoming obligations for increased school spending.

That shift would help the Legislature meet the “paramount duty” set down in the state Constitution, to fund public schools, he said. “We don’t have a paramount duty to fund Life Sciences.”

The state Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to do a better job of meeting its obligations to schools, which will almost certainly be the main budget debate next year. The governor’s staff estimates the state will need to add between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for public schools, which would be beyond the more than $2.5 billion it might need for the growth in existing state programs and student population, increases in health care costs and any raises for school employees or state workers.

The state expects revenue to grow by about $2.4 billion, based on current projections.

“We have a very, very large hole to fill for our children,” Inslee said. “We are not going to fill that hole by decreasing the safety net.”

Braun said the cost of new school programs might be closer to $750 million. Those programs should be covered first by any new revenue, and what’s left over used for non-education spending. Raises for school employees and state workers might have to wait, he added, just as workers in private companies are going without pay increases.

Inslee said he and his staff will talk to legislators “as early as possible” about the 2015-17 operating budget. But with the whole House and half the Senate facing election this fall, they’ll have to wait to see the makeup of the new Legislature.

If those elections leave the predominantly Republican coalition in control of the Senate, Braun said that group will look for budget solutions that meet its fiscal principles, which have fought tax increases the last two years: “If the government comes with the tired approach of ‘We’re going to close tax loopholes’, we’re going to have difficulties.”

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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