State Senate Republicans have released an updated supplemental budget proposal that moves closer to Democrats’ ideas. The move came a day after the regular legislative session ended.
OLYMPIA — State Senate Republicans made public an updated proposal Friday that reflects a shift toward Democrats’ approach to crafting a supplemental budget.
The new plan came after Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday night made good on his threat to veto bills sent to him if lawmakers couldn’t finish their work on the supplemental, off-year budget on time. With strokes of a red pen, the governor scuttled 27 bills and signed 10 others.
Republican budget negotiators said their effort — presented on the first day of a special session called by Inslee — did not come in response to the governor’s vetoes.
Deputy Senate Republican Leader Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said he told House Democrats Thursday evening of Republicans’ plan to make a public proposal, rather than negotiating privately.
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“I am not considering the governor’s actions last night as part of the budget process,” Braun said in a Friday afternoon news conference. “I understand it as a choice he made. I don’t necessarily agree with that choice.”
While the governor could veto more legislation, no bills now on his desk require action before early April, according to Inslee chief of staff David Postman.
After his vetoes, Inslee said he had few substantial problems with the bills, and would consider signing them after lawmakers finish the 2016 supplement to the 2015-17 state budget.
The vetoes — on bills as varied as the legalization of industrial hemp, food-safety rules concerning rice noodles and electronic vehicle records — were a way to focus legislators, according to Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
The vetoed bills “are great, they’re worthwhile, they’re good,” Smith said. However, “The budget is necessary. It must get done … They’re elected and paid to balance the budget.”
The governor’s office hasn’t yet reviewed the latest GOP plan, Smith said.
But, “I think the governor was clear that he wanted folks to keep working and talking,” she said. “And it looks like they are, and we hope that they can get this job done in the next few days.”
Friday’s development marked possibly the first shift between lawmakers toward compromise since each party released its budget proposal in February.
Still, the latest GOP plan received a cool reception from House Democratic legislators. House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, accused the Republicans of playing politics by not making the proposal in private before the regular session ended.
“Had this offer been made back on Tuesday, we could have made substantial progress, maybe even finished our work before the end of session,” Sullivan said in a Friday news conference.
Sullivan argued that budgets negotiated in public make it harder for lawmakers to cobble together the votes necessary to pass a compromise.
“Once you put that proposal out, you will get a barrage of stakeholders lobbying for things that were taken out or things that are still in the budget,” Sullivan said.
Braun said he did not understand why making a public proposal was offensive, adding, “It’s a very reasonable time to go public with our position, to let the public know where we’re at.”
As for the substance of the Republican proposal, chief Democratic budget writer Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish said there were good elements in it, though Democrats still had some concerns.
“There’s some things in there we like, some … places they came in our direction,” Dunshee said.
In one significant move, the new GOP plan would draw money from the state’s reserve accounts to pay for nearly $200 million of wildfire-fighting costs from last year’s record blazes.
Republicans had previously resisted a big dip into reserves and had proposed to mostly pay for those costs from the general fund. Democrats have offered plans to pay for both wildfires and homelessness funding from the reserve accounts.
Using the reserve accounts for the fires — which killed three firefighters, destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched more than 1 million acres — theoretically frees up general-fund money for other spending.
The latest GOP proposal also raises $57 million in new revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle by making a tax change related to television content providers. That proposal would create a new classification for national television networks in the state business-and-occupation tax related to advertising income.
“It balances over four years, it addresses the emergencies that we have, in both fires and mental health,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chief Republican budget writer. “It does it responsibly, it does it in a sustainable way.”
The supplemental budget is customarily produced in the even-year legislative sessions, between the drafting of the state’s two-year operating budget in odd-numbered years.
While lawmakers earlier agreed to a modest plan-to-make-a-plan to address the state Supreme Court’s K-12 funding order known as the McCleary decision, a budget compromise has remained elusive.
Aside from paying for wildfires, lawmakers in both parties have broadly agreed to spend more money to address the state’s troubled mental-health system.
But Democratic lawmakers and Inslee proposed plans that called for more spending to address homelessness and a statewide K-12 teacher shortage. Those plans also called for more new revenue by rolling back some tax exemptions. Both Democrats’ approach toward the teacher shortage and the tax proposals remained a sticking point for Republicans.
“We do not agree with the House’s proposal or the taxes they suggest to go with it,” Braun said. “They have not even been willing to pass them [the tax proposals] off their floors.”
GOP lawmakers have said supplemental budgets should be used to make small corrections to previous budgets, rather than creating new policies.