As Republicans and Democrats prepare to negotiate a new state budget, GOP lawmakers accuse Gov. Jay Inslee of making unreasonable demands in recent closed-door meetings.
With only a couple of weeks to go before they’re supposed to wrap up work, Democratic and Republican budget negotiators in the state Legislature say they’re ready to talk.
They’ve scheduled negotiating sessions starting Monday. But just as they’ve been from the start of the session in January, the two sides remain deeply at odds over tax increases and pay raises for public employees.
And a new round of sniping broke out Friday over demands made by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in a recent closed-door meeting with legislators.
Republican leaders claimed the governor issued what amounted to a veto threat unless they raise taxes. Inslee’s office and the budget chief for House Democrats called that nonsense, saying the governor merely made his bargaining position clear.
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A day earlier, Inslee met briefly with House and Senate leaders of both parties — a so-called “five corners” meeting — and laid out his expectations for “what I need to see in a budget that comes to my desk if you expect me to sign it,” according to a copy of the governor’s speaking points provided by his office.
“Nothing here is new. It’s what I’ve told you all many times,” the governor said.
Inslee said the budget should include $1.3 billion or more in new spending on K-12 education to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling and contempt order, which found the state failing to adequately fund public schools. Both the House and Senate budgets included at least that amount.
Inslee also said he expected lawmakers to fully fund state worker and teacher pay raises and that he wouldn’t accept borrowing from the state capital budget, vague “efficiency” savings, nor sign any tax cut until his other requirements were met.
“I think we all understand this will require additional revenue,” Inslee said. He added that he’d prefer a capital-gains tax or charges on carbon pollution, but that “I’m not here to tell you how to raise the money needed.”
Republicans criticized Inslee’s message as unhelpful and overly partisan.
“It was a bit of an ultimatum … I walked out of there thinking, ‘Wow, he just told us we’ve got to run his budget or the House (Democrats’) budget or we’re gonna shut this place down,’ ” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, one of the Senate GOP budget negotiators who attended.
“I think he’s committed to taxes at all costs,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who was also at the meeting.
But Inslee’s office and the top budget writer for House Democrats said there was nothing unusual or overly aggressive about the governor’s brief talk.
“He was calm. He was reasonable. He made a limited set of points,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “He’s got to actually administer the system after we leave town. He wants a budget that won’t cause crazy disasters to happen on his watch.”
David Postman, an Inslee spokesman, said the governor was merely restating positions he’s made clear from before the start of the session — including that meeting the state’s budget demands will require new revenue.
“There’s nothing unusual about a meeting like this at this point in the session, except that Republicans seemed very eager to spread misinformation about what was said,” Postman said in an email.
Postman added in an interview that lawmakers of both parties had requested to hear where the governor stands as budget negotiations start in earnest. “If it turns out that they’re that delicate, we will try to be more careful in the future,” he said.
Inslee also asked for other items in the final budget plan, including drought funding, criminal-justice reform and more parks money.
Inslee and House Democrats have criticized the Republicans’ no-new-taxes, $37.8 billion two-year budget as gimmicky and unsustainable due to its reliance on fund transfers and other maneuvers.
House Democrats have passed a $38.8 billion spending plan that assumes a new capital-gains tax and higher taxes on service businesses. Republicans noted House Democrats have not actually voted on those taxes.
Despite the latest flare-up, lawmakers on both sides said they’re committed to trying to get out of Olympia before the scheduled end of the session April 26.
“I’m still thinking the glass is half full in our negotiations with the House,” Schoesler said.
“My interest in living in Olympia is very low,” Hunter said. “I’m excited about getting out of town.”