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State lawmakers strike late budget deal

OLYMPIA - Waiting until the final hours of the final working day of the fiscal year, Washington state lawmakers finally struck a deal to avert a shutdown of many government services. As of press time today, Friday, the legislature was expected to hammer out a final budget for the 2013-15 biennium that would meet a court mandate for increased school funding and address an anticipated shortfall of $800 million. Lawmakers are in their second special session and have been putting in late nights to get a budget in place by June 30. Without a new budget to fund state operations for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that starts July 1, many agencies - ranging from parks to social services - would have shut down and put thousands of state employees out of work. "One of the key pressures was that we would not treat our employees and our constituents to a 'shut down of government'," said Sen. Jim Honeyford. In comments to the Daily Sun News this morning, Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) said the sticking point in reaching a compromise was the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision mandating increases in state spending for K-12 education. "The Senate wanted to be sure that we had a real billion dollars to address the McCleary decision and the House wanted to put more funding for larger government and social spending," he said. "The final budget puts more than $1.5 billion in new funding for education and was dependent upon some education reforms." The stalemate between the House, controlled by Democrats, and Senate, a coalition leadership headed by Republicans, found a breakthrough yesterday. Even so, it wasn't until 11:30 p.m. last night before a summary and agency detail of the budget proposal was finally published. In comments yesterday afternoon shortly after a breakthrough was first announced, Rep. David Taylor reflected on the large task still ahead in finalizing a 2013-15 budget by the end of today. "I really can't comment on a budget I haven't seen," he told the Daily Sun News yesterday. "We received a briefing from the 50,000-foot level, but haven't received any specific details as of yet," said Taylor (R-Moxee). Following the budget summary release late last night, details of the compromise have emerged: - State spending will increase to about $33.5 billion for 2013-15, an uptick of just more than $2 billion from the 2011-13 biennium. - Revenues are also expected to increase by about $2 billion, pegged at $33.5 billion for 2013-15. - New revenues proposed for state coffers during 2013-15 include a tax on residential phone services that are already paid by cell phone users and restored estate taxes. - Cost of living allowances for state employees are suspended in the budget compromise now in the works. Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday expressed delight at the budget compromise, which came just days after he ordered pink slips issued to state employees to be laid off effective July 1. "I am happy and I know we are all relieved to report to you that lawmakers have reached agreement on an operating budget for the next biennium," Inslee said. "Government operations will not be interrupted. Washington will be at work Monday."

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