As of Thursday, April 2, 2015
OLYMPIA – The Republican-controlled Washington state Senate this week proposed increasing state spending by nearly $4.2 billion in the general fund for the 2015-17 biennium. That’s without raising taxes.
“This is a bold budget proposal that delivers on the promise to make education the top priority and to live within our means,” said Senate majority leader Sen. Mark Schoesler.
“The Senate budget delivers tax relief for families, fully funds K-12 education and protects the most vulnerable – all without raising taxes,” added Schoesler (R-Ritzville).
The Washington state Senate proposal calls for a general fund budget of $37.8 billion for 2015-17.
While the GOP claims a combination of cuts and $3 billion in additional projected revenue is enough to meet state needs over the next biennium, Democrats strongly disagree.
Their proposal in the House last week increases general fund spending by $5.2 billion and includes a “fair share tax” on capital gains for individuals earning more than $150,000 per year. The new tax would generate another $1.5 billion in revenue.
“Instead of asking the wealthiest and biggest corporations in the state to pay their fair share to meet our commitments to Washington families on education funding, the Senate Republicans raided voter-approved funds that would go to health care, drug abuse treatment and jobs programs,” said Jaxon Ravens, state Democratic party chair.
For example, the budget anticipates $325 million in revenues during 2015-17 from the state’s marijuana excise tax. The Senate proposes spending that money on basic education.
The GOP’s budget would spend an additional $1.3 billion on K-12 education to address the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and reduce tuition by 25 percent at state colleges.
Educators, though, aren’t happy that the Senate’s budget offers less compensation than the House proposal.
“On educator pay and health benefits alone, the Senate budget is $368 million less than proposed by the House last Friday,” said Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association.
“The Senate plan reinstates the voter-approved cost-of-living adjustments for educators, but not the larger 4.8 percent increase proposed by the House,” said Mead.
Mead contends the GOP plan also fails to fund smaller class sizes for students in grades four through 12, which is current law as approved by voters.
Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, also expressed his concerns with the GOP offering.
“Washington’s current tax system is unfair and it does not keep pace with our state’s obligations to educate our children, support our most vulnerable citizens and protect our natural resources,” said Inslee.
“Without additional revenue, the Senate plan falls short in a number of areas. It funds $100 million less than the House for early learning, and nearly $500 million less for K-12 schools.”
Adding to the chorus was Isabel Muñoz-Colón, chair of the State Board of Education…who also critiqued the budget drafted by House Democrats.
“We are holding our students to higher academic standards starting this spring, so it is appropriate for the legislature to likewise meet the higher standard for funding as well.”
Inslee extended an olive branch while calling on legislators to iron out their differences ahead of the April 26 budget deadline.
“I commend the Senate on its hard work in releasing a proposed 2015–17 budget. I am encouraged that the Senate budget includes a significant investment towards meeting the state’s constitutional basic education obligations.” he said.
“With proposals from the House and Senate majorities, I urge budget leaders to come together as soon as possible to begin negotiating a final compromise.”