The state Democrats want $1.5 billion in new taxes but haven’t shown they have the votes to pass the tax increases.

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FOR years, writing a budget in Olympia meant politicians deciding what to spend and whom to tax. This year, as in 2013 and 2014, our Senate majority set out to better govern by focusing on living within the means taxpayers provide while making the investments Washington deserves and needs.

Delivering on the priorities of the people, not just those of Olympia politicians, required us to think outside the box.

On April 6, following months of work, the Senate passed a complete operating budget that prioritizes education, would protect our most vulnerable citizens and would balance over the next four years.

CRUNCH TIME

Editor’s note: The Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House have hit an impasse on the state budget as the legislative session approaches its Sunday close. The Senate budget writer explains his priorities in this guest column.

This plan would provide an additional $2.7 billion for K-12 education, making significant investments in our students, teachers and schools.

It would lift the funding level for K-12 education to nearly half of the entire state budget, a share not seen in 30 years.

The Senate budget also would provide the first tuition cut in decades: Students would pay, on average, 25 percent less at state colleges and universities over the next two years.

A student paying almost $11,000 at the University of Washington today would pay $7,500 in 2017.

With more in-state jobs requiring additional education or training after high school, it’s critical to make higher education accessible to all students.

The budget also would invest in high-quality early learning so students enter kindergarten ready to learn, paying dividends in the form of success later in school and in life.

This is especially true for low-income students, where there is the greatest need to improve the high-school graduation rate and close the opportunity gap.

The budget would protect the VIP Act, which helps 5,000 people with developmental disabilities get the support they need. We make meaningful investments to protect senior citizens and modernize the state’s mental-health system.

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times
Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

All this was made possible by setting priorities and living within our means — in other words, without raising taxes.

Our main objective when writing this budget was not to spend a specific dollar amount nor increase taxes — it was to provide the services people expect and deserve from state government without calling on families and businesses to send Olympia more money.

When the state is collecting $37 billion over the next two years — that’s $3 billion more than the current budget — citizens expect us to govern with what we have.

The plan we approved clearly makes significant, positive investments without putting jobs or Washington’s economy at stake, all while leaving the largest reserve in state history.

Our counterparts in the state House took a different approach, relying on $1.5 billion in new taxes while investing in education, much as the Senate does. But they haven’t demonstrated they have the votes to pass these tax increases. That means the House has passed only a spending plan, but not a real budget.

If the Senate budget became law as is, students would continue learning, people would get the services they need and government could expect to stay out of the red.

If the House spending plan became law (which would require endorsement of both chambers), state government would shut down July 1, and the Legislature would be called back to deal with a $1.5 billion deficit for the 2015-17 budget cycle and a $3.8 billion deficit over the next four years.

In 2013 and 2014, with divided state government and narrow majorities, the House and Senate reached reasonable budget compromises that received the most bipartisan votes seen in decades.

For lawmakers to finish on time like voters expect, a majority in the House now needs to get behind a complete and balanced budget, like that the Senate has approved. That’s how we can work together toward a responsible, sustainable final agreement.