A mostly united Senate sends $71B spending plan to the House

The proposed budget passed on a 40-9 vote. It hikes spending for schools, child care and human services.

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OLYMPIA — State senators overwhelmingly approved a proposed two-year operating budget Wednesday, pushing more dollars into public schools, behavioral health services, early learning and child care, while also addressing impacts of climate change.

Senate Bill 5187 passed on a 40-9 vote. Once the House adopts its budget, now set for Monday, negotiations will begin to reconcile differences in the spending plans.

“This is a Democratic budget but it represents common ground and common purpose,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and chief budget writer.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, the ranking Republican on the budget panel, voiced appreciation for the inclusion of GOP members throughout the process. Though the end result is not totally bipartisan, it is responsive to Republican priorities, she said.

“There are very good things in this budget” that the Senate should work hard to preserve in negotiations with the House, she said.

When unveiled last week, the proposed operating budget contained roughly $70 billion in spending on government programs and services.

An additional $679 million was allotted for clean energy projects, improving energy efficiency in homes and buildings, utility assistance for low-income households, salmon recovery and improving air quality in communities where pollution levels are measurably higher. Proceeds from the state’s new cap-and-trade system will pay for those.

Amendments adopted in hearings this week and on the floor Wednesday pushed spending higher.

For example, there was $60 million directed to services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, salaries of community college employees and salaries. The sum backfills a reduction of federal funding, Senate staff said.

One change steered additional dollars to community colleges for employee salaries and the University of Washington for a new teaching hospital. Another amendment detailed how roughly $15 million in grants will be distributed to providers of abortion care services.

With the revisions, the Senate proposal spends roughly $5.4 billion more than the current budget expiring in June and leaves around $3.5 billion in total reserves. It contains no new general taxes or fees.

Details can be found online at fiscal.wa.gov.

The 105-day legislative session ends April 23.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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