Democrats in the Washington state Senate would delay $330 million in payments to schools to help bridge the state budget shortfall.
OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders throughout the Legislature are pushing hundreds of millions of dollars in delayed payments as a solution to the state’s current budget shortfall, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Senate budget writers unveiled their spending plan Tuesday morning, relying on that $330 million accounting gimmick to help fix a $1 billion problem. The Senate proposes to make the delayed payment permanent, meaning schools that typically get a major payment at the end of June would instead get it in early July.
The Senate plan is similar to a House proposal unveiled last week, which had about $400 million in delayed expenditures. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the budget does not make further cuts in K-12 or higher education.
The spending proposal in the Senate would keep $370 million in reserves, lower than the House plan that leaves a half-billion dollars.
Most Read Local Stories
- Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book
- There's an opening for the GOP in Washington state — and they're squandering it on conspiracies
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 22: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Lummi Nation woman disappears during Las Vegas trip with fiancé and friends
- Swinomish tribal members say steelhead net pens violate fishing rights, add their voice to state Supreme Court case
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said lawmakers hope to deal soon with structural problems within the budget.
“The underlying structural issue is not addressed in this budget,” Brown said. “We feel the economic recovery is fairly tentative at this point, but we know we have to get to that eventually.”
Brown said the state needs to have a larger discussion about tax revenue, noting that revenue as a percentage of personal income in the state has been on a long-term slide. She said that revenue discussion will be critical to ensure the state has quality services such as education and a social-safety net.
“If we want that kind of state, we are going to have to step up,” Brown said.
The current Senate budget plan would raise $31 million by restricting a business tax deduction for first mortgages and a tax exemption for renewable-energy equipment. It also would seize some $71 million from the new liquor-privatization system that otherwise would go to local governments.
The fiscal conservatives in the Democratic caucus, along with Republican Sen. Steve Litzow, of Mercer Island, have indicated that they do not like the idea of delaying payments, though they have not closed the door to supporting a budget that includes them. Their priority is the approval of policy changes, including evaluations for teachers and a constitutional amendment that would require balanced budgets over a four-year period.
Mary Fertakis, president of the Washington State School Directors’ Association, said school districts had trouble handling a payment delay when it occurred last year — and that it forced some districts to take out short-term loans to bridge the gap. With time to plan for the budget shift, she said, districts should be able to handle the new proposal by temporarily dipping into their reserves.
Fertakis said the delay was far preferable to actual cuts.
Republican leaders in the Senate said they will not support a plan that delays payments. Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said the proposal will leave lawmakers with another budget hole to deal with when they return next year and that the gimmicks counter efforts in the Legislature to keep the budget consistently balanced.
“My approach was to live in the reality that we’re in,” Zarelli said.