Two-year, $38.2B state budget passes; shutdown averted

OLYMPIA — The threat of a government shutdown dissipated Monday as state lawmakers passed a $38.2 billion budget for government operations in the next two years.

Senators approved the plan on a 38-10 vote with Democrats — including four from Snohomish County — casting the dissenting votes.

A short time later, the House passed it on a 90-8 margin with two Snohomish County lawmakers among those voting against it.

It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee who must sign it by midnight Tuesday to prevent dozens of state agencies from shutting down. He issued a statement late Monday praising the budget and saying he would sign it Tuesday afternoon.

“It makes a bold statement about what we value,” he said. “The only major complaint I have with this budget is we’re talking about it on June 29. This should have happened two months ago.”

Under the budget, the state will put another $1.3 billion into public elementary and secondary schools to comply with the demands of the Supreme Court in the McCleary case.

It also will provide state workers and teachers with pay hikes, cut tuition for college students and increase funding for state parks, mental health programs and human services.

And in Snohomish County, there’s money for Washington State University to add degree programs in software engineering, sustainable food systems, data analytics, and aviation management.

“It is a great budget,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means, in brief comments before the vote.

Not so for Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, of Bothell, who voted against it.

“It doesn’t address the court (in McCleary) because it doesn’t deal with the levy inequities and teacher compensation,” said McAuliffe, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee.

Monday’s swift passage of the budget came after months of inaction that dragged on through one regular session, two extra sessions, and the start of a third.

The problem was the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-run Senate could not resolve their differences on how much to spend and how to spend it.

House Democrats pressed for new taxes to fund programs and Senate Republicans resistedsaying they were not needed.

They finally struck a deal early Saturday and Monday brought the public release of the final compromise. While there are no new taxes in it, four tax exemptions are eliminated in order to raise additional revenue.

Hill didn’t apologize for the protracted process.

“We are in the world of divided government so it takes longer,” he said. “It’s a little bit uglier.”

Under the budget compromise, the McCleary-related funding will expand all-day kindergarten statewide, reduce class sizes in grades K-3 and pick up most of the cost for materials, supplies and operating expenses of schools.

The final agreement provides thousands of state workers with a 4.8 percent pay raise as negotiated in collective bargaining agreements. It is the first across-the-board salary increase in six years.

Nearly 80,000 teachers will get a total cost-of-living adjustment of 3.2 percent in the biennium, their first state-funded COLA in six years. They also will receive an additional 1.8-percent salary bump in the next two years that, like a bonus payment, will disappear on Aug. 31, 2017.

This had been one of the issues on which the two chambers bickered the most.

House Democrats wanted to give teachers a 4.8 percent salary hike like state workers; Senate Republicans offered one-time payments.

The final agreement also will provide a 5 percent reduction in tuition for students at all two-year colleges and four-year universities this fall. In 2016, it will be reduced further so that tuition at the University of Washington and Washington State University will be 15 percent less than the just-completed school year. At the regional universities it will be 20 percent lower.

At Everett Community College, it means the cost for an in-state student enrolled in 15 credits for three quarters would drop from $4,000.05 to $3,800.05, or a savings of $200.

Even as lawmakers moved swiftly to pass the two-year budget they continued negotiating on how to deal with Initiative 1351, the class size reduction measure approved by voters in 2014. The budget doesn’t pay for the estimated $2 billion cost in the next biennium but it was unclear Monday if lawmakers would muster the two-thirds majority to suspend it.

Questions also remained Monday on whether the lawmakers’ efforts will appease the state Supreme Court which found them in contempt last year for lacking a plan for fully funding public schools.

The budget does not address the court’s concern that school districts are using too much of their locally raised property taxes to pay the bills. They want the state to pick up the tab but lawmakers are not passing any kind of levy reform this year.

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

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