Inslee’s budget proposal ‘holds steady’

OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t looking for a protracted budget fight with Republicans next session.

But in 2015, well, that could be another story.

Inslee on Tuesday proposed adjustments in the current state budget to cover the cost of more students, more prisoners, and citizens seeking public services. And he wants to see a little extra money spent on preschoolers, new teachers and expanding aerospace education in Everett.

All the ideas are rolled up into the “hold-steady” supplemental budget proposal he released Tuesday that lawmakers will use as a blueprint when they look to tweak the budget beginning next month.

Inslee also warned Tuesday that in 2015 the state budget will be in the red and lawmakers under pressure to better fund basic education — and he’ll be pushing to get rid of tax breaks to raise the needed revenue.

“Holding steady this year will allow us to prepare for the next year when the situation and task before us will be greater,” he said. “We will be talking in the next biennium about some of the tax loopholes that need to be closed.”

Inslee’s warning didn’t sit well with the chief budget writer in the Republican-run Senate.

“To say the only way to solve it is with a tax increase is lazy,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond.

“Marijuana is one place we have revenues coming in. Internet sales tax — we need work at the federal level. We think eventually we will get that,” Hill said. “And if you continue to look at reprioritizing your spending, I think there are ways to get there.”

As that showdown looms, all signs portend a peaceful conversation in the 60-day regular session.

“The nice thing is we have a balanced budget,” Hill said.

“We don’t have a deficit. We don’t have to make cuts.”

Lawmakers will return in January to find the state’s financial situation isn’t much different than when Inslee signed the two-year $33.6 billion budget in June. Tax collections are coming in as forecast but most of the money is needed to plug holes that opened up since he put his signature on that spending plan.

Inslee is proposing roughly $200 million in additional spending of which $150 million would pay for the additional students, prisoners and those in need of services.

Of the other $50 million, he wants to add 500 slots for preschool students at a cost of $4 million and support new teachers with mentoring programs for $3 million. He is seeking $300,000 to assist students in meeting math and science graduation requirements and $250,000 for an early warning dropout prevention program.

Inslee did not include $1 million for Washington State University to offer degree programs in software engineering and agriculture through the University Center at Everett Community College.

“This is a tight budget,” explained David Schumacher, Inslee’s budget director.

But the governor did put in $500,000 for WSU to develop the School of Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace at Everett Community College. It would be run through the University Center.

Over time, degree programs combining traditional aeronautic, astronautic, materials science and core engineering would be offered, according to the governor’s budget. Classes could start as early as the fall of 2015.

To the chagrin of public school teachers, Inslee did not fund cost of living increases as spelled out in voter-approved Initiative 732. It’s five years and counting since the state last provided a cost of living adjustment.

Inslee committed to come up with the needed dollars in the 2015-17 budget.

“I fully intend to rectify it next year,” he said.

Washington Education Association President Kim Mead of Edmonds said their 82,000 members aren’t in the mood for more waiting and more promises.

“I think the word frustrated is putting it mildly,” she said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn isn’t going to be happy with the governor’s proposal.

He requested $385.6 million for basic education programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

He said it is the minimum needed to keep the state on track to fully fund basic education by 2018 as ordered by the Supreme Court in the McCleary case.

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