Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill said he’s not sure the Legislature needs to pass a state operating budget this year.
“You can get out of here without one,” Hill, R-Redmond, said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that the GOP-led majority in the Senate would make a decision within a couple of weeks.
Democrats, who control the House and governor’s office, disagree. They contend that Republicans are just trying to avoid a discussion about additional funding for education this year.
The Legislature approved a biennial operating budget last year that technically runs through the end of June 2015. However, the Legislature generally approves a “supplemental” budget the next session to deal with any unexpected expenses.
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The last time the Legislature did not approve a supplemental budget was 36 years ago, in 1978, when then-Gov. Dixy Lee Ray did not call a session, according to nonpartisan legislative staff.
Hill said there may be no need for a budget this year because the two-year spending plan approved last year remains balanced, which is the first time that’s been true since the Great Recession hit in 2008. If there are some items that require an appropriation, the Legislature might be able to handle them in separate bills, he said.
Republican leaders say additional funding for education can be taken up next year when there’s more time for discussion.
Democrats, however, note the state Supreme Court recently knocked lawmakers for not moving fast enough to meet the court’s mandate for increased education funding, including compensation for teachers.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, in his state-of-the-state address, responded with a proposal to plow an additional $200 million into education this year. The governor said a cost-of-living increase for teachers should be included. He called for closing tax breaks to pay for the plan.
“Failing to pass a supplemental budget this year means ignoring the Supreme Court’s recent order that made it quite clear that the state is violating its constitutional duty to adequately fund education,” said David Postman, a spokesman for Inslee.
House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said he didn’t see how the Legislature could avoid writing a budget this session.
“There will be 50 decisions we have to make. We could do 50 bills. That would be like doing 50 budgets,” Hunter said. “If you do a bill and you call it something else — it looks like a budget, it smells like a budget, it is a budget.”