The Legislative Building in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

The Legislative Building in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

As adjournment nears, state lawmakers reach budget accord

The $64.1 billion supplemental state budget was settled a day before the Legislature adjourns a 60-day session.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — House and Senate budget negotiators reached agreement Wednesday on a $64.1 billion supplemental state budget, a day before the Washington Legislature adjourns a 60-day session.

The compromise budget builds off the $59 billion, two-year spending plan adopted by the Legislature last year and is similar to initial proposals released last month by both chambers, with significant spending in a variety of areas, including items to reduce homelessness, add more social supports like nurses and counselors for students, and bolster behavioral health.

Before voting to approve the agreement at a conference committee, Democratic Rep. Nicole Macri said the budget “really represents our collective values to continue to respond to this pandemic as we continue to navigate our way out of it and to make meaningful investments in the families and small business that we know have been hit hardest.”

The total amount is less than the House’s original $65.2 billion proposal but slightly more than the Senate’s initial $63.5 billion plan. The final plan now moves to each chamber for final passage, starting in the House Thursday afternoon.

While there are no general tax increases, there are also no across-the-board tax cuts, something Republicans argued should have been on the table given the significant influx of revenue the state has seen over the past year, plus more than $1 billion in remaining pandemic-related federal relief funds that were used in the budget.

Initially there were plans to offer targeted tax relief — like a three-day sales tax holiday around Labor Day that was in the House budget, and the Senate’s initial proposal to make Discover Passes for state parks and lands free for one year, and provide grants so that state and county fairs could offer free admission this year. But those were all left out of the compromise budget. A tax credit was included that would affect about 125,000 small businesses in the state, according to budget writers.

Starting next January, businesses making less than $125,000 a year will pay no state business taxes, and for those making up to $250,000 a year, business taxes will be cut in half.

With ongoing inflation and rising gas prices at the pump, majority Democrats in the Senate on Tuesday rejected a parliamentary procedure attempted by Republicans to bring up for a vote a bill that would suspend the state gas tax for the remainder of the year. The Democratic floor leader, in calling for the motion to be rejected, said it would upend lawmakers’ negotiated work on the supplemental budget plan and transportation revenue package.

Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary said that there were good things in the budget, but he expressed frustration that he and his GOP colleagues had not seen details of the plan until just an hour before and that it wasn’t a more collaborative effort.

“My biggest disappointment is the inability to provide meaningful tax relief to the people that we represent,” he said.

The supplemental operating budget also spends state and federal money, including:

• $350 million to help shore up the state’s paid family leave program, which officials warned was nearing a deficit.

• $351 million to increase rates to vendors providing services to people with developmental disabilities or long-term care needs.

• $232 million for raises for state workers. According to the Office of Financial Management, about 63,800 general government employees will get a 3.25% general wage increase, about 6,700 state corrections workers will get a 4% general wage increase and about 1,200 State Patrol officers will get a 10% general wage increase. The last general wage increase for represented employees was July 1, 2020.

• $283 million on higher education, including more than $46 million for training for the health care workforce.

• $144 million for the ongoing COVID-19 response in the public health system.

• $100 million for utility assistance for low-income customers.

The plan leaves about $3 billion in reserve.

Lawmakers had already reached agreement on a $1.5 billion state construction budget that spends on areas including housing and homelessness, behavioral health facilities and seismic upgrades at public schools. That budget was approved with unanimous support, passing the House Tuesday night and clearing the Senate Wednesday.

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