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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee mum on status of state budget talks

OLYMPIA – Silence descended over spending talks Wednesday, as Gov. Jay Inslee deflected most questions about progress in talks to break a legislative stalemate over the 2015-17 operating budget. 

“The less said about the status of these budget discussions the better,” he told reporters after signing several bills passed during the first special session. “I am trying to say as little as I can about it.”

That was in contrast to last Friday, when Inslee’s budget chief, David Schumacher, said a tentative agreement was reached among budget leaders on a key point in the negotiations, the total amount of money the state would spend on most programs and salaries. He wouldn’t reveal the amount, but said it was about halfway between Senate Republicans’ proposal of $37.9 million and House Democrats’ proposal of $38.4 billion, with decisions yet to be made on how that level would be reached.

 By Monday, Senate Republicans were saying no such agreement had ever been reached; House Democrats later insisted it had, but some Senate Republican members balked so their leaders backed out.

 Also on Wednesday a bipartisan group of senators introduced  a bill that would increase state funding for public school salaries by $3.5 billion over four years, starting in the 2018-19 school year. It acknowledges the state would need extra revenue to do that but doesn’t settle on a source. The bill is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon.

The Legislature has 17 days left in its second special session, and 20 days before the state would have a partial government shutdown if the operating budget isn’t passed. By law it must begin sending notices later this month to workers who would be furloughed if that happens.

Parents of students headed for state colleges or universities in the fall might be wondering how much tuition would be. House Democrats have proposed freezing it at current levels, while Senate Republicans have proposed cutting it by as much as 25 percent at some institutions. 

School districts may also be wondering how many teachers they will need, and how much they will be paid. Public school salaries and class sizes could also change with the budget.

Asked what he would say to those parents and school officials, Inslee replied: “They should be anxious for the legislators to do their job.”