Budget negotiations hit snag in state Legislature

OLYMPIA — With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, budget negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans hit a snag Wednesday.

House Democrats said that during an afternoon meeting, they were given an ultimatum to pass tax bills related to their budget proposal before negotiations could move forward.

GOP budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, however, said he offered to consider a smaller amount of revenue as a starting point for negotiations and only told Democrats they’d need to pass their revenue bills after they refused.

Lawmakers this year are tasked with writing a new two-year operating budget for the state under the shadow of a Supreme Court -ordered requirement to put additional money toward the state’s education system.

There are differing ideas between the politically divided chambers on how best to do that, with Democrats seeking more revenue and Republicans saying new taxes are not needed.

The Senate passed its $38 billion, two-year budget earlier this month. It doesn’t include any new taxes, mostly relying on existing revenue, fund transfers and redirecting tax income from recreational marijuana, as well as modifying as class-size ballot measure. The House passed its own plan a week before the Senate, but it hasn’t yet voted on bills that will pay for the plan, including one that creates a capital gains tax and others that seek to close some tax exemptions.

Both sides say they’re willing to negotiate but each accuses the other of trying to push the Legislature into a special session after the current 105-day session ends April 26.

“We’ve made a good-faith offer, they rejected it, we said ‘OK, then, if you want more money, pass your taxes,”’ Hill said. “And apparently, they did not like that.”

But House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and Rep. Reuven Carlyle said that Republicans are creating an unnecessary detour in the negotiations.

Sullivan said that they have the votes to pass their revenue package, but said that even if they do, it doesn’t change the conversation with Republicans who have been clear on their stance on taxes. They said that insisting on a floor vote on something that is certain to be part of the negotiation unnecessarily hinders the process.

“They’re demanding it, but for no reason other than to delay us getting done on time,” Sullivan said.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor is aware of the current impasse but hopes that negotiations can resume soon.

“Rather than being out in the press and pointing fingers at each other for not negotiating, how about just negotiating?” she asked. “It doesn’t serve anyone well to be drawing a line. There’s nothing stop them, except themselves, from getting in a room and working this out.”

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