OLYMPIA — With just days left in an overtime legislative session, the state Senate on Saturday approved a budget plan that made some concessions on revenue, provided House Democrats agree to other demands.
Big disagreements with the state House remain, with an important financial deadline looming: the end of the budget cycle on June 30.
The budget proposal passed on a 25-23 vote before the mostly Republican-controlled Senate adjourned until Sunday, when several policy bills are expected to come up for votes.
A separate revenue plan proposed but not passed on Saturday would require out-of-state visitors to apply for sales-tax refunds instead of automatically avoiding the tax.
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The Senate plan also would end a tax break for residential-phone services and offers a fix to a recent court ruling on the estate tax that could cost the state millions of dollars in refunds.
The budget proposal does not seek to close additional tax exemptions, as the Democratic-controlled House did in its budget proposal passed earlier in the week.
And Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the key budget writer for the chamber, said that the revenue-related bills won’t pass off the Senate floor “until we get the reforms that we’ve been asking for.”
“I’m all for putting more money and new money into the system, but not put it into the broken system that exists now,” he told fellow lawmakers on the Senate floor. “We need to fix that system.”
Lawmakers are nearing the end of a 30-day special session that began May 13 and is set to end Tuesday. They face a $1.2 billion budget shortfall for the two-year cycle that ends in the middle of 2015.
That gap doesn’t include an additional approximate $1 billion that lawmakers are seeking in response to a court-ordered requirement that the state spend more on its basic education system.
The Senate majority pulled a handful of policy bills to the floor earlier Saturday for a potential vote, including bills to make changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, a measure to cap noneducational state spending, a bill to give veto power to principals over teachers assigned to their schools and a measure on payday loans. Those bills could potentially come up for a vote on Sunday.
Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, accused the other side of taking the revenue bills hostage for those policy bills.
“I think it’s immoral,” he said. “We have an obligation under the Constitution to pass a budget.”
In an emailed statement, Gov. Jay Inslee said the Senate’s list of policy demands was “a step in the wrong direction and will make it harder to reach agreement on a budget.”
Republicans control the Senate with the help of two Democrats, known as the Majority Coalition Caucus. The House and Senate have been locked in budget negotiations for weeks, and Inslee has said another special session would start Wednesday if needed.
As in its original budget, the Senate’s new budget proposal also repeals voter-approved cost-of-living raises for teachers, redirecting the assumed $320 million to basic education.
It also redirects money from other accounts, like the construction budget. A program that provides cash aid to blind, disabled or older people who are typically waiting for approval of federal benefits would be cut by nearly $41 million, less than the $80 million cut initially sought in the original Senate budget passed in April.
The budget would leave nearly $600 million in reserves at the end of the two-year budget cycle. ending mid-2015.
Compared to the current budget, the Senate spending plan for the coming two years adds $1.5 billion more to K-12 education, including about $1 billion directly toward satisfying last year’s Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to fund education.
Saturday’s proposal includes more than $240 million on a learning-assistance program targeted to high-poverty schools and $41 million to phase in expansion of full-day kindergarten, both which were included in the Senate’s first budget.
The Senate also moves forward with a federally funded Medicaid expansion, with the assumption that will save the state nearly $320 million.