Dueling state budgets on the table now in Olympia

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans proposed a no-new-taxes budget Tuesday that pours billions of more dollars into public schools to meet a demand by the state Supreme Court — but not voters.

GOP leaders said their budget meets the needs of the state and residents in the next two-year budget cycle. And because it doesn’t raise taxes, as House Democrats propose, the Senate plan is a blueprint for ensuring the Legislature can adjourn on time, Republicans said.

“I think the budget we rolled out here is one that everyone can vote for,” said state Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chamber’s chief budget writer. “Our only goal was to provide the services that matter, what people expect and deserve from state government, without calling on families and businesses to send us more money.”

The Senate Republicans’ plan calls for $37.8 billion in spending in the next biennium, with the single largest of new spending going to education.

Republicans are earmarking $1.3 billion to comply with a state Supreme Court order to fund the full cost of basic education in public schools. Those dollars will pay for materials and supplies, provide all-day kindergarten statewide and reduce the size of classes in kindergarten through third grade.

But the Senate budget, like the one House Democrats released last week, doesn’t pay for smaller class sizes in other grades, as required by Initiative 1351, approved by voters in November. Rather, Republican senators want to put the measure back on the ballot in hopes voters will support smaller classes in the lower grades only.

House Democrats have proposed to spend $38.8 billion in the next budget and want to pay for some it with revenue from a new capital gains tax and an increase in a business tax levied on professional services.

On Thursday, the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on their respective budgets. After that, budget writers will begin serious negotiations to reconcile differences. The 105-day legislative session is scheduled to end April 26.

Two items of interest in Snohomish County received different treatment in the Senate budget compared to the House proposal.

The GOP plan provides no money to increase the mapping of landslide-prone areas using technology known as Light Distance and Ranging, or Lidar. Images obtained with Lidar can provide a sophisticated understanding of geological dangers.

Following the deadly Oso mudslide last year, the state Department of Natural Resources requested $6.6 million to map more areas and hire more geologists to evaluate applications to cut timber in areas with unstable slopes or a potential for landslides.

“I’m absolutely disappointed,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said in an email. “In the wake of the Highway 530 landslide, it is concerning that there is no funding proposal to map our state’s landslides and other geologic hazards.

“In addition, the budget provides nothing to improve the review of thousands of timber-harvest applications, some of which are on potentially unstable and steep slopes,” he wrote.

House Democrats propose $4.5 million for the agency in its budget, and that drew criticism from Goldmark.

Washington State University’s effort to expand in Everett, meanwhile, did get a boost in the GOP plan.

There is $4.5 million for WSU to launch degree programs in software engineering, sustainable food systems, data analytics and aviation management at the University Center at Everett Community College. This is more than double the amount WSU would get under the House budget proposed last week.

The Senate proposal looks to transfer about $375 million from more than a dozen different accounts to the state’s general fund. An additional $296 million will come from permanently shifting the distribution of the marijuana taxes — which currently go to health programs, among others — to education. The budget would allocate $2.5 million to the Department of Health for marijuana education.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle issued a joint statement that said the Senate plan is “an unsustainable budget that relies on gimmicks, gambles and a lot of marijuana.”

In a written statement, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee urged House and Senate lawmakers to work quickly to compromise on a final budget plan.

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