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Monday, June 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Budget plans don’t reflect reality of most Washingtonians

There may be some fortunate Washington households planning for a 15 percent increase in spending over the next two years, but we know of only one: the Washington House of Representatives.

Next door, the Senate, with its projected 12 percent increase, is only slightly less optimistic. And the kids will pay less to go to college, too.

In fact, many K-12 students will also be among the biggest beneficiaries of biennial budgets that, despite double-increases, will keep the state living within its means although, in the House’s case, those means blissfully assume enactment of a 5 percent capital gains tax that will primarily tap the wealthiest 1,000 of our neighbors.

Both houses of the Legislature will approve their versions of the budget; they may have overnight. Leadership will have three weeks to reconcile the two versions. It should not take that long.

Whatever they decide, it will be the Washington Supreme Court that will have the last word on whether lawmakers have done right by K-12 students by providing the constitutionally mandated “ample” funding. They are already in contempt of court for falling short of that mark since the McCleary decision of January 2012.

The House and Senate budgets provide an additional $1.4 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, toward K-12 education. A reasonable compromise should be easily negotiated. Just “should,” because of a Senate version that substitutes flat $1,000 payments in 2015 and 2016 for fatter increases negotiated by Gov. Jay Inslee for all state employees.

That saves $430 million, if the Washington Education Association and other bargaining units do not take lawmakers to court for not fulfilling the terms of a negotiated contract. The House funds those contracts.

The Senate also helps itself to a projected $296 million from taxes on marijuana, redirecting that money away from health and prevention programs into the general fund. Community health centers lose state funding for 21 percent of their patients. But the Senate budget does include funds for repayment of student loans for doctors and other providers in underserved areas of Washington.

There are many other discrepancies negotiators can address. But the concern is that neither budget leaves much room at the bottom line, although both comply with a requirement they will balance for four years.

Washington’s overall economy has driven estimates of state revenues incrementally higher in recent quarters. But outside the Puget Sound area – and not that far outside – unemployment remains high; over 10 percent in 11 counties.

When a stock reaches the upper limits of its valuation, it is said to be “priced for perfection.” Assuming, conservatively, a 12 percent revenue increase over the next two years, the imperfect folks in Olympia may be testing the prudence other Washington households have adopted.

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