House passes budget; negotiations move along

OLYMPIA — The Washington state House passed a spending plan Thursday as budget negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans continue.

House Democratic budget negotiator Ross Hunter of Medina said that the House budget bill, passed on a 54-43 vote, includes concessions made by House Democrats. Among the allowances were spending cuts and the elimination of a one-day delay in a $330 million payment to schools, which would have put it in the next budget cycle.

Hunter said the Senate would have the opportunity to amend the budget as negotiations between the parties continue.

“Mostly, this is about making sure we can continue to negotiate and continue to have a product to move forward,” Hunter said.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said that bringing forward a budget before a deal is reached is counterproductive.

“It just feels like it’s more of an attack than it is an olive branch,” said DeBolt. “It seems very partisan, barrier-oriented. They want it to fail.”

The House also passed other budget-related bills off the floor Thursday. One measure would require roll-your-own cigarette stores to collect the state’s 15-cents-per-cigarette tax. The bill is estimated to bring in an extra $12 million annually.

In an 82-15 vote, House members also approved an accounting maneuver in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are sent back to jurisdictions at their usual time, roughly a month after they are collected. That plan is estimated to increase the state’s general fund balance sheet by some $238 million.

Also Thursday, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment to limit the debt connected to the state’s construction budget. The measure would reduce the state’s debt limit for its construction budget from 9 percent to 8 percent by July 1, 2034.

The amendment now heads to the House, where it also needs a two-thirds margin of approval. Because the measure would amend the constitution, a majority approval by the voters would also be needed.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans held rival news conferences Wednesday in which each side touted the concessions made thus far in the budget negotiations. Hunter said Thursday that the sides are closer than they were at the end of the regular session, which concluded last month without a deal.

The special session ends April 10.

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