The 2015 Legislative session officially reached the end of the line Sunday, sine die, with little or no agreement on the most important B words facing lawmakers – the biennial budget.
The legislators spent 105 days, beginning Jan. 12, with each chamber and the governor scribbling out a budget, and that is about where it stands.
With all sides digging trenches, Gov. Jay Inslee called a 30-day special session that begins today, Wednesday.
Looming over the competing budget notebooks is the September 2014 State Supreme Court order, written by Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, finding the state in contempt for failing to, “submit by April 30, 2014 a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year. Sanctions and other remedial measures are held in abeyance to allow the State the opportunity to comply with the court’s order during the 2015 legislative session.”
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, is serving his first term in the House from the 31st District.
Stokesbary wrote in an email Monday, “I am disappointed that despite $3 billion in new revenue, the Legislature will enter yet another special session, the 14th since 2000. Special sessions are especially problematic for school districts, which begin budgeting for the upcoming school year in May. Uncertainty in Olympia could force school districts to send out unnecessary layoff notices.”
Stokesbary said he believes Republicans and Democrats are relatively close on education spending.
“Republicans have proposed $1.28 billion of new K-12 spending to satisfy our McCleary obligation, along with a 25 percent tuition reduction at state universities,” Stokesbary wrote. “Democrats have proposed $1.33 billion of new K-12 spending and are offering to freeze college tuition. Both proposals would contribute $232 million to cost-of-living adjustments for teachers. The difference is that Republicans want to use the $3 billion surplus to pay for these priorities, while Democrats want to use that $3 billion for other items and fund education with a series of new taxes totaling $1.5 billion.”
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, has been elected to the House for seven terms.
He wrote the session, “is difficult this year as the budget is so important. It is normal to spend the time necessary to get it right. There is a difference between the House and Senate that needs to be reconciled for there to be a budget agreement. The House is suggesting some new revenue for education and the Senate is basing their budget on people smoking 10 times as much marijuana as they do today to balance their proposal. The only real deadline is by the end of June to keep things up and running. The delay to find common ground is common in budget years when we write the two-year state budget. We need to get it right and we can’t rely on the 10-fold increase in marijuana usage that the Senate Republicans are basing their budget proposal on. The last thing we need to help education is 10 times as many kids high on drugs. That does not work.”
Hurst said he worked with Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds to add $350,000 in funding in the House budget to help renovate the Enumclaw Expo Center. The funds will help rebuild the infrastructure and repair older structures.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, has held her 31st District Senate seat for seven terms.
Monday, Roach wrote, “The cold hard fact is that the Senate and House of Representatives have yet to reach agreement on a new operating budget. The sticking point is not so much on the spending side but on the revenue side.
“Keep in mind that with the growth in our economy, we already expect $3 billion more in our state treasury, over the previous budget. But, House Democrats are demanding another $1.5 billion above that. They intend to get it by raising taxes. They want additional taxes on small businesses and even want to tax bottled water again (voters had rejected that tax in 2010).
“Senate Republicans passed a no-new taxes budget and still fund education. When it comes to education, school funding is part of the state operating budget. We will also have enough money to support state employee contracts.
“While the Senate budget this year (for 2015-17) isn’t perfect, the largest slice of funding goes to K-12 education – 47 percent.
“In dollar terms, the Senate budget increases funding for public schools by over $2.7 billion (to $18 billion, from $15.3 billion in the current budget). It is the largest increase, in number of dollars, in state history.
Roach added she was able to add to the Senate budget, “$500,000 to begin a dual-language program in the Auburn School District. I have been working for many years to bring language opportunities to English-speaking students.”