Washington state lawmakers unveil budget plan

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by RACHEL LA CORTE / Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 13 at 11:08 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington state House on Thursday approved a supplemental budget that will add more money to basic education and cap tuition increases for public college students for the second year in a row.

The bipartisan budget passed on an 85-13 vote, just hours before the Legislature is set to adjourn its 60-day session. The measure now heads to the Senate for final approval.

During the floor debate, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a sustainable budget that “fixes the underlying problems that come about every year.”

“We have more work to do next year on many different fronts,” Hunter said earlier in the day. “And I look forward to that.”

The budget proposal has a $155 million spending increase over the $33.6 billion, two-year state operating budget approved by the Legislature last year. It does not include cost-of-living increases for teachers and does not close any tax exemptions, both things that were initially proposed by the House.

“It won’t make everyone happy,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican from Granger who is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. “But this is a budget that will work, and prepare us for making the challenging decisions that lie before us in the years ahead.”

The budget puts $58 million toward K-12 materials and supplies and an additional $25 million for “opportunity scholarships” for students who are pursuing degrees in what are known as the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. The budget also allots more than $20 million in community mental health, including $7 million in response to a settlement that requires the state to expand mental health services for children.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said he couldn’t support the measure because of the lack of inclusion of tax breaks for businesses that would have helped areas east of the mountains.

“There is nothing in this budget for the forgotten Washington,” he said.

Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond who is the Senate’s main budget writer, said that while the budget is arriving on the last day of the session, being able to adjourn without the need for a special overtime session is something that lawmakers have not been able to do for a few years.

“It takes a while to negotiate anything,” he said. “Considering that we’re dealing with split control, I think we did a pretty good job.”

Democrats control the House, and a predominantly Republican majority controls the Senate.

The focus on education spending continues as part of Washington’s ongoing response to a 2012 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which found that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation concerning education funding. That ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents and education groups, known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit. The court has required yearly progress reports from the Legislature on its efforts. Those reports are then critiqued by the group that brought the lawsuit and by the Supreme Court.

The latest communication from the high court earlier this year told lawmakers to submit a complete plan by the end of April detailing how the state will fully pay for basic education.

“We still have a big job to do next year and in the next three for McCleary,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, ranking Democrat on the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee.

The budget is Senate Bill 6002.

AP writer Lisa Baumann contributed to this report.

 
 

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