Washington lawmakers pass tax bills ahead of adjournment

Republicans decried adoption of tax increases following recent revenue forecasts.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers were moving closer Saturday to passing a new a new, two-year state budget that looks to increase spending on K-12 and higher education as well as the state’s behavioral health system.

The proposed $52.4 billion budget relies on more than $800 million in new revenue, including an increase in business and occupation taxes on large banks and a change to the state’s real estate excise tax.

On a 4-2 voice vote Saturday afternoon, budget leaders from the House and Senate approved the negotiated conference committee plan, which must be approved by both chambers before the end of the 105-day legislative session at midnight Sunday in order to avoid an overtime session.

“This is a great budget for the state of Washington,” said Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes, the key budget writer for the Senate. “It’s a decades-long needed investment in higher education, which is really the foundation for the entire state’s economy and the future of our state.”

But Republicans decried adoption of tax increases following recent revenue forecasts that showed more money coming into the state.

“We had plenty of money to fund our maintenance level and make important policy investments without numerous new tax proposals that we are still dealing with today and likely tonight and tomorrow,” Republican Sen. John Braun said.

After the Senate worked late passing bills Friday night, and the House passed tax bills until sunrise Saturday, both chambers are expected back on their respective floors in the afternoon for more votes. More late votes on key tax bill are expected late into the evening and potentially overnight once again, and open government advocates have decried a lack of transparency in the rushed process.

“The public, I think, was let down by this process,” Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary said.

Both chambers have been passing their revenue bills tied to the underlying budget before the full budget has been made public. Late Friday, legislative leaders revealed details of the negotiated final plan, but full details weren’t released until the conference committee report was adopted Saturday afternoon.

The revenue package has several elements, including moving the real estate excise tax from a flat tax to a graduated one based on the selling price of the home. It also looks to increase business and occupation taxes not only on large banks, but also on other professional services and on large technology companies like Amazon and Microsoft.

A new excise tax on vaping products is added, and changes are made to current tax exemptions, including amending the current sales tax break for residents who live in states that don’t have a sales tax, like Oregon. Under the plan, non-residents would be able to request sales tax refunds of more than $25 and would be limited to one refund per year.

Democratic Rep. June Robinson said that while she knows a lot of focus will be put on the revenue, she said “I have no problem going home to my working class district with this revenue package.”

“The revenue that supports this budget taxes wealth in this state, which we know there is a lot of,” she said. “It will certainly affect people and I recognize that and I take that very seriously. But we worked hard to craft a revenue package to support the needs of our state. And to the best of our ability that . has the least impact on working families in our state.”

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