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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Get state budget done – avoid shutdown

Lock box, meet “glass case,” the fallback 30-day state budget Senate Republicans are ready to enact if they cannot agree on a two-year budget with House Democrats by midnight Tuesday.

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, says SB 6051 should not be needed because negotiators are close to breaking the stalemate over state revenues and spending that has dragged through one regular legislative session and two special sessions. “We will not shut down state government,” he said, as Gov. Jay Inslee must do absent a budget deal.

That would be unacceptable.

Thousands of people who depend on the state for vital assistance will not receive it, and thousands of state workers will not get paid. And Washington legislators would look as helpless as those in Washington, D.C.

SB 6051 is a necessary but troubling precaution that would maintain spending at current levels, set aside $33 million for firefighting and drought response, and assure payments on all state debt for the full year.

There has been movement on the biennial budget.

The version introduced Thursday adds some of the revenue House Democrats have been looking for by closing two tax loopholes and capturing more money from warehousers, yielding $126 million. It eliminates a $34 million raid on premium taxes now going to the Health Benefit Exchange, timely given the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday that resolved questions regarding health insurance subsidies.

But it also sweeps up the remaining balance in the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a move we oppose, and slurps $26 million in liquor excise taxes that would otherwise go to local governments.

Education and programs for children get extra dollops of funding.

The total comes to $38.2 billion for the biennium, just about what the Democrats are using in their budget and $4 billion more than in the current biennium.

As to the urgently needed transportation package, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday submitted a new proposal to Senate and House committee leaders that offers to delay implementation of his low-carbon fuel program until 2018. In return, he wants assurances that investments in transit and other non-vehicular transportation are not killed by a GOP “poison pill.”

The Republican chairman of the Senate transportation committee, Curtis King, R-Yakima, responded with a letter praising Inslee’s willingness to negotiate but putting off clean fuels implementation until 2023. If the administration starts rulemaking for a fuel standard, the pill goes into effect. The response looks encouraging only in comparison with that of the House Democrats, who are not even talking to Republicans.

Meanwhile, more than 200 business and municipal leaders from all over the state are pleading for a deal that will gradually hike gasoline taxes by 11.7 cents per gallon, raising $15 billion that would fund a 16-year highway and bridge construction program.

If this does not get done, Inslee should call another special session, turn off the air conditioning in the Capitol and block any roads out not already paralyzed by traffic.

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