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Budget talks stall along partisan lines

Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Budget negotiations between Washington House Democrats and Senate Republicans stalled Wednesday evening, with each side accusing the other of forcing the legislative session past its scheduled April 26 adjournment date.

The budget battle revolves around a $1.3 billion tax package that the House has yet to vote on. Senate Republicans, who have already passed a $37 billion operating budget with no new taxes, refused to consider the House Democrats’ competing budget until the House takes action.

Republican Sen. Andy Hill, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said his side can’t take the House proposal seriously until Democrats prove they have enough votes for the new revenue needed to make their budget work.

But House Democratic leader Pat Sullivan said it’s “absurd” to demand that Democrats push the bills through the House, considering Senate Republicans have already declared that they’d never vote for those kinds of taxes. Some have suggested property taxes, which Sullivan said he would consider if they are brought up during negotiations.

“I’m unsure why they want us to pass something that they say they will never accept,” Sullivan said. “They said they’re willing to negotiate, and then they locked the door. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Hill, of Redmond, accused Democrats of deliberately stalling in hopes of getting to a special session, where they would have a geographical advantage. Because Western Washington legislators are mostly Democrats, and most Republicans live farther from Olympia, calling legislators back to work would be a bigger burden for Republicans, he said.

If a budget deal isn’t reached by June 30, many state agencies would have to cut back or shut down because they wouldn’t have any legal authority to spend money to do their work.

And Republicans traditionally get blamed for that, Hill said.

“There is a belief that if you shut down the government, it disadvantages Republicans.”

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