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House passes budget with teacher raises

OLYMPIA — In a prelude to end-of-session budget negotiations, the House dumped the Senate's no-new-taxes budget that extended some tax loopholes for businesses, replacing it with a plan to spend an extra $140 million on education and other programs, partly by raising several taxes.

Democrats and Republicans traded charges of who was being irresponsible in making plans to raise money and spend it. . . 

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The Senate plan is irresponsible, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said by adding or extending tax preferences and shuffling money between accounts creating a future liability that he called “a balloon payment of Bitcoins.”

The House Democrats are irresponsible by passing a tax-and-spend budget, Republicans countered. Their budget “is co-dependent on taxes we haven’t even talked about,” Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, said.

The House spent most of the day on plans to spend money. In the morning, the House Finance Committee voted to levy a new tax on e-cigarettes, and close four tax breaks. The committee voted on partisan lines to levy the sales tax on bottled water and to require out-of-state shoppers to pay Washington sales taxes, and file for a refund if their total is above $25.

Although the supplemental operating budget passed later in the day relies on the money from those taxes, they haven’t yet passed the House. If they are in the final budget negotiated between the two chambers, they’ll come up for a vote later, Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said in a later interview.

On bipartisan votes, the House passed a supplemental Capital Projects budget with some $166 million in new construction projects, and a separate plan to build some 2,000 new classrooms for kindergarten through Grade 3 with bonds to be paid off by state lottery money. It also approved some $340 million extra in transportation spending.

In the lead up to the supplemental budget vote, members of both parties supported a cost-of-living raise for teachers, something that is required by a voter-passed law but which the Legislature has suspended for the last six years to overcome budget problems. Rep. Hans Dunshee, R-Snohomish, said some people might support the raise because it will stimulate local economies as teachers spend the money. That's not the real reason for the proposal, he said.

“It is about respect. It is about dignity,” Dunshee said.

Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, said some Republicans would balk because cost-of-living raises are outside the priorities of the McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court that orders to Legislature to do more to meet its obligation to public schools. But Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said a more recent order from the court made clear that “adequate compensation is part of basic education.”

The raises, which add $55.5 million to the budget, are among the key differences with the Senate’s budget passed last week. Hunter said he’d meet with his Senate counterpart, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, as early as today to schedule negotiations needed to settle on a budget that can pass both chambers before March 13 when the Legislature is set to adjourn.

“We will come to an agreement,” Hunter said. “We always do.”

Before voting on the full budget, Democrats and Republicans had several skirmishes over topics ranging from abortion to Obamacare.

Republicans tried to strip out health care funds for abortion, and block any health care money from going to Planned Parenthood. Some of the money saved would be moved into programs for disabled veterans. 

“We can better spend the money in places that we do trust,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said.

But Democrats said the use of state funding for abortions was approved by voters in an initiative years ago. “To comply with the law, we need to provide these funds,” House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said. The amendment died on a voice vote.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, succeeded in adding $500,000 for a study ways to make sure people who are now “falling through the crack” on the Affordable Care Act can get covered.   Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said Obamacare has “too many unknowns to move forward”  the state shouldn't be spending half a million dollars on a study. It passed on a vote of 54-43.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.