Lawmakers approve budget to avert shutdown

Lawmakers approve budget to avert shutdown »Play Video
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington lawmakers finalized a new state budget Friday, moving swiftly to avert a looming government shutdown.

The House and Senate both voted by wide margins to approve the $33.6 billion spending plan, just hours after the 483-page bill was made available for public inspection. The measure now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to review the budget and sign it by the end of Sunday.

"This has taken a long time to get here," said Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond who was one of the budget negotiators. "I think the end results, while they took a while and were painful, I think in the end it's going to be a budget document that serves our citizens, and most importantly our children."

Inslee and House Democrats had proposed roughly $1 billion in additional revenue to help infuse money in the education system, but much of that was dropped as lawmakers got positive economic news and agreed instead to some fund transfers. They settled on two ways to bring in extra money, making changes in estate and phone taxes, largely in response to court rulings.

"We have very, very modest revenue increases in this," Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina said.

Inslee said he would sign the budget no later than Sunday. Much of state government would be shut down if the spending plan hasn't been completed by the end of the weekend.

Lawmakers had been working on the budget for months and were supposed to finish the spending plan in April, but wide disagreements over a variety of tax and policy matters stalled talks. The delays forced state agencies to notify thousands of government workers that they could be temporarily laid off as of July 1.

Both Republicans and Democrats highlighted how the measure would add $1 billion to the state's education system while providing enough money to universities that tuition would remain at current levels.

"We cannot alone keep tuition down without providing our colleges and universities the needed funds to operate efficiently and effectively in providing quality education for our students," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. "In this budget we are addressing affordability, access and quality."

The budget also includes a variety of cuts. Budget writers booked $30 million in savings from the implementation of lean management practices.

Lawmakers again suspended voter-approved cost of living increases for school employees, saving $320 million, and also are indefinitely delaying implementation of an as-of-yet unfunded law giving Washington state parents five weeks of paid time off to be with a new child until the Legislature finds a way to pay for it. Budget writers booked $7.7 million in savings from delaying the opening of a medium security prison unit.

"Too often in Olympia we tend to talk a lot," said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat from Medina who leads the Majority Coalition Caucus, which comprises 23 Republicans and two Democrats. "This budget here, we actually walk our talk."

Lawmakers save a lot of money by implementing President Barack Obama's health care law thanks to more federal money. Republican lawmakers introduced an amendment to the budget that would have rejected that expansion, but it was voted down.

About $500 million of the budget is funded by a variety of transfers, and about half of that money would come from the state's public works assistance account, meaning there will be fewer dollars available to support such local projects.

While Democrats have worked to repeal some tax exemptions, an agreement tied to the budget does the opposite. It extends a tax break for the beekeeper industry, creates a sales tax exemption for nonprofit gun clubs who purchase clay targets, and makes a tax change to provide nonprofits more flexibility in how they use their property. They also extended some renewable energy tax breaks, including one related to solar energy.

Finally, lawmakers carved out a tax break for dance venues after tax regulators targeted them for failing to collect sales tax on cover charges.