With a couple weeks before the scheduled end of the 2015 legislative session, Democratic and Republican budget negotiators said they've hit an impasse in budget talks.
OLYMPIA — With less than two weeks to go before they’re supposed to adjourn, legislative budget negotiators hit an impasse Wednesday.
House Democratic leaders said they arrived at a scheduled midday negotiating session with Senate Republicans, only to be told there would be no further talks unless the House first votes on on capital-gains and business tax increases assumed in the the House budget plan.
“It was an ultimatum,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, who said the GOP demand sidetracked budget discussions that had been progressing in meetings the previous two days. “I was stunned.”
Republicans said that was only part of the story. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, one of the GOP negotiators, said Republicans offered to compromise on some spending to bring sides closer. But he said absent that agreement, Democrats need to prove they have the votes for taxes.
“They haven’t passed a budget that pays for itself,” he said.
The Senate has offered a no-new-taxes budget that spends about $37.8 billion over the next two years. But the plan has been criticized by Gov. Jay Inslee and other Democrats as unsustainable for redirecting marijuana taxes and other dedicated funds to balance the books.
The two-year budget passed by House Democrats would spend $38.8 billion and assumes a new capital-gains tax on wealthier taxpayers and a tax increase on service businesses. Democrats have not passed those bills but say they have the votes.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, called the Republican demands “ridiculous,” accusing them of trying to force House members into “a gotcha vote” on taxes that may not even be part of the final budget.
Despite the bluster, both sides said they’ll continue to try to come together. “We’re going to go talk to them every day,” Braun said.
But Hunter said the stall in talks Wednesday doesn’t bode well for wrapping up before the scheduled April 26 end of the session. He said a “handshake” agreement on the budget would have to be in place by next Wednesday for that to occur.
“Odds of that right now would be low,” Hunter said.