No new taxes supplemental budget adopted

Mar 30, 2016

At long last the legislature has approved a 2016 supplemental budget. Didn't have time to read the budget's 352 pages before the vote? Don't feel bad, neither did most lawmakers.  As reported by the Spokesman Review

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, objected to the budget negotiation process that presented lawmakers with a 352-page budget just hours before the vote. 'Nobody here, if they were given a test on this budget, would be able to pass it. We would do worse than the kids in schools do on their testing.'

Budget writers did provide this summary, however, with some of the high level details. Among some of the other notables: 

  • No tax increases! The House had originally proposed $120 million (though it never voted on them). Instead $46 million in "royalty amnesty" & $34 million in "DOR audit payment" assessments are assumed in balance sheet.
  • The state's renowned 4-year balanced budget requirement survives final budget agreement. Had been discussed in House to remove this fiscal responsibility requirement.
  • Final budget deal doesn't appropriate money for the "McCleary contempt fine.” House had originally proposed $21 million in fines.
  • The budget provides funding to keep charter schools open. Will Governor Inslee sign the bill? If no action by April 2, the bill will become law even without his signature. 
  • The budget seriously endangers the voter-approved performance audit program by taking $10 million from the State Auditor’s Office for other spending by Department of Revenue. More details here
  • There is no public records study as originally proposed by the House.
  • Funding is maintained for Governor Inslee’s Results Washington management program. The Senate had originally proposed to eliminate the program. See this tweet from WPC's Todd Myers on why this matters. 
  • Lawmakers approved a study of whether to merge the state's closed pension plans. The Senate budget originally assumed savings from this (though the Senate never voted on the proposal).
  • State employees will be allowed to continue to travel to Victoria, B.C. The original House budget banned such travel. 
  • According to Rep. Kevin Parker, 30 budget offers were exchanged between the House and Senate before a final deal. Will lawmakers make those offers public so we can see how the debate unfolded behind closed doors?

I formally submitted a public records request today for copies of those budget offers but based on the fact the Legislature has exempted itself from the law it is a long shot to get those details. 

Discussing the budget deal Rep. Chandler said

“With a divided Legislature and governor’s office, there’s never going to be a perfect budget that pleases everybody.  In my own caucus, we have serious concerns about how little there is in the four-year outlook ending fund balance.  We believe in sustainable budgeting and a case could be made that with $9 million projected in the bank at the end of 2019 we’re spending very close to every penny we have. However, considering the realities we deal with in Olympia, I consider this budget agreement a success.  We target small but needed investments in mental health and education all while resisting the urge to raise more taxes.  This is a supplemental budget that has rightly earned its name.”

Governor Inslee added

Legislators today concluded their most important order of business — passing a supplemental budget that keeps our books balanced and our state agencies fully open for business to serve the people of Washington. I appreciate the work of Senate and House budget negotiators to reach a good compromise that legislators were able to support on a bipartisan basis. We’ll have more work to do next year on education, mental health and teacher recruitment. But supplemental budgets are largely about modest adjustments and updates to the two-year budget, and that’s exactly what legislators accomplished.

While this should mark the end of legislative budget work for 2016, the state Supreme Court may throw another curveball later this year. During a TVW interview earlier this year, Chief Justice Madsen said there is no response from the Court that would go too far if the Justices aren't happy with K-12 funding progress. For those keeping score at home lawmakers have already increased K-12 funding by about $5 billion, a 36% increase

Stay tuned.