OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers were bracing for a final flurry of debates and votes Sunday to approve a new state budget and other key bills on the final scheduled day of the legislative session.
In the meantime, they had a lot of homework to do. The state’s new proposed two-year operating budget went public Saturday afternoon, giving legislators and the public roughly a day to digest the 808-page document.
The full budget funds programs like schools, parks, prisons and social service programs and must still get votes in the Legislature and a signature by Gov. Jay Inslee. The $52.4 billion budget is funded by a tax package that includes more than $830 million in new revenue.
Its full release came as lawmakers readied themselves for another all-night round of votes in the state House and Senate.
In addition to the budget and related tax and policy bills, Democratic lawmakers continued to negotiate on legislation to raise the local cap on school district property-tax levies. Those come after school districts across the state have struggled in the wake of the Legislature’s 2017 court-ordered K-12 school funding plan.
The budget agreement funds $280.5 million over two years on the downpayment of a plan to shore up and reshape Washington’s battered mental-health system. More mental-health funding is expected to come through the capital-construction budget.
It includes $45.5 million for agencies such as the state Department of Natural Resources to fight wildfires and conduct forest health programs — though it omits a tax proposed to fund such work.
And it provides $35.2 million to boost rates for providers of facilities for high-needs foster youth. That money is expected to help bring home Washington foster youth who have been sent to facilities as far away as Iowa, South Carolina and New Jersey.
For K-12 education, the budget includes $3.9 billion needed to continue paying for the Legislature’s landmark 2017 court-ordered school-funding plan. It adds $155 million for special education programs.
The final blueprint adds $34.8 million to expand the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, and $10.3 million to help address the state’s backlog of sexual assault kits.
Roughly $6 million is included to help implement Initiative 1639, a package of gun regulations that voters passed last year, and to help the Department of Licensing replace its current database for firearms. Buyers of weapons ranging from assault-style AR-15s to some .22-caliber sport rifles are now required to get thorough checks — conducted by local law enforcement agencies — similar to what handgun buyers currently receive.
Inslee’s office on Saturday was still reviewing the deal, according to a spokeswoman for the governor.
Democrats control both the House and Senate by comfortable margins, and have touted the deal’s increased spending on education and social services.
“We are enthusiastic about this spending proposal,” Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said Saturday.
But the GOP’s two lead lawmakers on the budget announced Saturday that they did not support the agreement, as did one Senate Democrat.
Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, said lawmakers should go into a special session to give them more time to carefully consider the big proposals they are quickly grinding through.
“To try to get all this through in the last weekend, this isn’t how you do good public policy,” said Mullet.
Mullet said he would vote against the budget, saying, “The spending level increases in this budget, I don’t think are necessary.”
Considered one of his party’s most moderate members, Mullet is chair of the Senate Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade Committee. He said he didn’t learn about a revenue bill in the budget deal that raises taxes on large banks until Friday morning.
“That proposal has not been discussed all session,” Mullet said.
As they headed into the weekend, Democratic lawmakers kicked into overdrive to finish work on a new state budget and a key school district tax-levy proposal.
After announcing broad details on a new 2019-21 operating budget, Senate and House lawmakers voted on bills into Friday night.
The $52.4 billion budget would be funded by a broad tax package that pays for both that spending blueprint and an additional, dedicated account for higher education. All told, it would raise more than $836 million in new taxes over the next two years.
Included in the revenue package is a bill to reshape the state’s real estate excise tax (REET), usually paid by people selling homes, which would bring in $243.5 million in the two-year budget cycle.
It would create an excise tax on vapor products, cuts back some tax preferences and hikes the hazardous-substance tax often paid by oil companies. It increases the business-and-occupation tax for large financial institutions.
A second type of business-and-occupation tax increase — one sought by Microsoft — raises hundreds of millions more to expand college financial aid and high-demand degree programs, such as nursing, engineering and computer science.
Meanwhile, raising the state-imposed cap on local property tax levies has been seen by some Democrats as a must-have in order to finish on time.
Democratic lawmakers continued work on a compromise over the legislation to raise caps on how much money school districts can raise through local tax levies. School districts have said they need that change because they are facing layoffs or budget shortfalls.
Friday night, House and Senate lawmakers debated and passed differing Democratic proposals — House Bill 2140 and Senate Bill 5313 — to do that.
Republicans have protested those bills, saying they amount to another tax hike and break the bipartisan deal made in the 2017 school-funding plan.
After SB 5313 passed, bill sponsor Sen. Lisa Wellman said in a statement that the legislation would help make sure districts could raise money for things like sports teams, summer programs, debate clubs and teacher training.
“It allows communities to decide what’s important to them and act accordingly,” said Wellman, a Democrat from Mercer Island, in prepared remarks.
But Mullet voiced frustration about the proposal, which he said did not have enough provisions to make sure the money would be spent on those types of activities.
Mullet had prepared an amendment to strengthen the restrictions, he said, but was told the bill wouldn’t be debated Friday night.
So he went home to see his kids — and then rushed back to Olympia when he learned the bill was being brought up. He missed his chance to bring up the amendment and ultimately voted against the bill.
Referring to Democratic leaders, Mullet said, “They know this was my most important issue of the session.”
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