Senate Republicans have released two new state operating-budget proposals — a full plan for the 2015-17 budget cycle and another to keep government running for a month.
OLYMPIA — Even as he floated a short-term spending bill to avoid a possible government shutdown, Sen. Andy Hill, the GOP’s chief budget writer, said Thursday afternoon that negotiations were moving along.
Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee offered similar remarks, even as parts of the government could close down Wednesday if no compromise is reached on a 2015-17 state operating budget. Lawmakers, whose regular legislative session ended in April, are nearing the end of a second special session without a deal.
So, is a stopgap spending bill — which would keep government running for a month and avoid a shutdown — a PR move? Or is the measure, which officials have said is unprecedented, an indication of genuine concern?
Hill, of Redmond, described it as precautionary.
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“We will not allow a government shutdown, we think it would be disastrous, we think it would be irresponsible,” said Hill, adding later: “We are moving along in negotiations, but this is strictly a, as I call it, ‘break glass’ type of thing.”
Rep. Ross Hunter, of Medina, and chief Democratic budget writer, however, called it “theater.”
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, compared it to the other Washington, where passing a federal budget has become more an option than a requirement.
“As a general rule,” said Carlyle, “Washington, D.C., solutions to Olympia problems don’t usually seem very constructive.”
Inslee doesn’t believe a short-term budget is necessary, spokeswoman Jamie Smith said.
“They’re close to a budget agreement and should just stay focused on getting it done,” Smith said, adding later: “The governor feels they’ve had plenty of time to reach a budget.”
But both Hill and Hunter indicated Thursday that one big sticking point is what to do about college tuition.
“I would argue that the debate over taxes is over … the debate over funding education is over, and the debate over the social-safety net is over,” said Hill, in a committee hearing. “The last real [issue] between our budget and the House is about providing relief around college affordability.”
The two parties have differing plans on making college more affordable. Democrats back freezing tuition and expanding financial aid, while Republicans support slashing tuition by 25 percent.
For Democrats, the sticking point on a tuition cut centers on how to pay for it.
“It turns out that if you want to lower tuition, you have to give the universities the money that they would have gotten from tuition,” Hunter said.
“The way you get money is taxes, so either you get manna from heaven, or you get taxes,” he said. “And taxes are easier to count on.”
“We are struggling on that issue,” Hunter added, “and we are trying to make progress.”
House Democrats have dropped most of their proposals for new taxes, but earlier this week they called for about $350 million in new revenue from closing or reducing tax exemptions.
It spends a total of $38.2 billion and adds $126 million in new revenue, by among other things, ending a preferential tax rate on royalty income and closing a tax exemption for software manufacturers.
Hill said it moves toward House Democratic proposals in early education and social- services spending and described it as “compromise and movement towards the middle.”
Both plans were given public hearings Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which Hill chairs.