In order to avoid a third special session — and a potential partial government shutdown next week — lawmakers are trying to reach agreement and pass a two-year state budget before the current session ends Saturday night.
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — In order to avoid a third special session — and a potential partial government shutdown next week — lawmakers are trying to reach agreement and pass a two-year state budget before the current session ends Saturday night.
Senate Republicans’ key budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, held a public hearing Thursday afternoon on both a new Senate budget proposal and an emergency plan that would enable the state to keep running an extra month in case lawmakers can’t pass a budget by the end of the current fiscal cycle.
The one-month plan, which Hill called a “break glass” emergency option, would fund state government at the current level through the end of July.
“We don’t think we’ll need to use it. We don’t want to use it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you always want to have a contingency.”
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House Democrats released their latest budget proposal Monday. The plan doesn’t include any new taxes but looks for about $350 million in additional revenue through closing or limiting several tax exemptions, a compromise encouraged by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.
Hill, meanwhile, introduced a bill late Wednesday looking to close two exemptions that would bring the state an additional $125 million over the next two years.
Additionally, the new Senate plan increases the amount it spends from its previous offer by $367 million, with the largest amount — an additional $157 million — going toward a one-time lump payment to teachers on top of legally required cost of living increase, along with additional money for early learning, child care and mental health programs.
Hill said the latest budget offer is a true compromise.
The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have been locked in budget negotiations that have driven them into a second overtime legislative session. If they haven’t passed a budget by midnight Saturday, the governor is certain to call them back for a third special session to finish work on an operating budget that is expected to be about $38 billion.
“The last real delta between our budget and the House is about providing relief around college affordability,” Hill said.
Senate Republicans are seeking to cut tuition at the state’s universities and colleges, whereas House Democrats are seeking a freeze in tuition increases.
Rep. Ross Hunter, House Democrats’ main budget writer, said he hadn’t seen the Senate’s latest proposal, but called the one-month budget option “a bad idea.”
“Let’s not turn Washington into D.C., let’s actually agree on a budget,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t agree on a budget.”
A new two-year budget must be signed into law by midnight June 30 or else dozens of state agencies and other offices would completely or partially close and more than 26,000 workers would be furloughed, according to the state Office of Financial Management. Most workers received notice this week that they would be temporarily laid off starting July 1 if a budget isn’t adopted in time.
While Washington state has never had a government shutdown, the Legislature has taken negotiations to the brink before. Two years ago, lawmakers didn’t reach an agreement until June 27 and passed it out of both chambers the next day. Inslee signed that budget on June 30.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said it’s “a bad idea for lawmakers to go beyond June 30, and it doesn’t appear it will be necessary.”
“They are close to an agreement and should stay focused on finishing this budget,” Smith wrote in an email.