By Mike Baker Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers hurried Friday to approve a new state budget with a total price tag of $33.6 billion, even though the public had less than 24 hours to review the spending plan.
Leaders in both parties touted how the budget added $1 billion to the state’s education and provided enough money to universities that tuition would remain at current levels. However, it also includes hundreds of other tax, spending and policy changes that influence everything from dancing, geoduck divers, and noxious weeds.
Here’s a look at what’s inside the 483-page bill.
Tax breaks: Democrats in Olympia had worked earlier this year to eliminate some tax breaks, but the final budget agreement includes new and extended tax benefits. The plan extends a tax break for the beekeeper industry, creates a sales tax exemption for nonprofit gun clubs who purchase clay targets, and makes a tax change to provide nonprofits more flexibility in how they use their property. Lawmakers also extended some renewable energy tax breaks, including one related to solar energy.
The Legislature carved out a tax break for dance venues after tax regulators targeted them for failing to collect sales tax on cover charges.
Both chambers did agree to a plan that would provide more transparency and accountability for the tax breaks, establishing expiration dates that would force the Legislature to revisit the ideas in the future. New tax preference would also be accompanied by a statement of what the preference is designed to accomplish and ways to measure the effectiveness of that goal.
Revenue: While a Republican-controlled majority in the state Senate had opposed new sources of revenue, they did agree to make a change in the estate tax law that would keep tens of millions of dollars in refunds from going out to beneficiaries. They also agreed to restructure the state’s telephone tax laws, meaning that some people — such as those with prepaid phones — may pay more taxes.
Many other proposals totaling hundreds of millions of dollars were not included in the final deal, including those to end some tax breaks and extend business taxes.
One part of the budget would draw extra money from some state employees. State workers who smoke and use state health insurance would be charged an additional $25 a month. Meanwhile, workers who have their spouse on the state plan when a similar plan is available to that significant other would be charged an extra $50 per month.
Spending cuts: Budget writers booked $30 million in savings from the implementation of lean management practices — an efficiency effort that Gov. Jay Inslee cited in his campaign last year. Lawmakers again suspended voter-approved cost of living increases for school employees, saving $320 million. Budget writers booked $7.7 million in savings from delaying the opening of a medium security prison unit.
About $350 million of the operating budget is funded by transfers, much of it coming from the state’s public works assistance account, meaning there will be fewer dollars available to support such local projects. That shift upset local government officials.
Lawmakers also save a lot of money by implementing President Barack Obama’s health care law thanks to more federal money.
New spending: The budget includes a range of smaller items, creating new government entities or adding spending in new areas.
For example, the budget creates a Geoduck Harvest Safety Committee to submit recommendations that may establish a safety program for divers seeking the mollusks native to the Pacific Northwest. The total cost? $265,000. Another $500,000 is allocated to handle weed management and work on the eradication of noxious weeds.
The University of Washington will receive $7 million to create a Clean Energy Institute and a Center on Ocean Acidification in order to conduct research on their namesake issues. Such environmental matters have been a focus of Gov. Jay Inslee. Meanwhile, a Washington State University program will get $600,000 to conduct public outreach on non-lethal ways of limiting conflict between livestock and wild carnivores, and lawmakers spend another $2 million to purchase scientific equipment for Washington State University biomedical and health sciences building in Spokane.
Another $50,000 is provided to conduct a cost and impact study of Covington Town Center. That’s the home city of House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan.
The governor’s office would get a new director of military affairs, at a total cost of $300,000. The person would help the governor’s office coordinate with state agencies and local communities on military issues. The state already has an adjutant general of the Military Department that oversees the National Guard and emergency response matters.