Senate GOP budget proposal: No new taxes

Democrats say plan relies on gimmicks, a lot of marijuana

By Lauren Dake, March 31, 2015, The Columbian

While unveiling their budget on Tuesday, Senate Republicans wasted no time highlighting a key selling point of their two-year proposal: no new taxes.

 

“We’ve been very clear we felt all along $3 billion more in new revenue was certainly enough,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said to a room full of reporters.

 

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, stood behind Senate leaders as they released their budget. He said in a statement that the Republican budget proves you can “prioritize spending, fully fund education and protect the vulnerable, without going back to the taxpayers asking for more, more, more.”

 

The Senate’s $38 billion operating budget proposal carves out $1.3 billion for K-12. The proposal also cuts college tuition for the first time since the 1970s, according to Senate Republicans.

 

House Democrats, who released their budget last week, blasted the Senate’s proposal as relying on “gimmicks, gambles and a lot of marijuana.”

 

“Their proposal shifts money from one program to another to make it appear the budget has more money; hopes for unrealistic improvements in tax and fee collections; and under-funds broken programs like our mental health system, to name just a few budgetary maneuvers,” Democratic House budget leaders Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington and Reuven Carlyle of Seattle said in a joint statement.

 

The Senate’s proposal would move $375 million from different accounts into the state’s general fund. In addition, $296 million from marijuana taxes currently funding health programs would go instead to education. The Senate would funnel $1.3 billion toward adequately funding the state’s education system to help fulfill a mandate by the state’s top court.

 

Under the House Democrat’s budget, which was released last week and heard in committee on Tuesday, the state would send $1.4 billion toward meeting its goal of funding K-12 education. The House budget also relies on raising revenue using a capital gains tax.

 

The Senate plan doesn’t include the pay increases for state employees included in the House budget, a move Gov. Jay Inslee called a “rejection of good faith collective bargaining agreements” that he finds “disappointing.”

 

The Washington Education Association criticized the budget, saying it does not take any “steps to address competitive, professional wages.”

 

The Senate Republicans are instead proposing a $1,000-a-year raise for state employees. Under their plan, they said, the state’s 25,000 lowest-paid workers would receive better raises than what was negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement.

 

The Senate’s two-year budget proposal is $38 billion, compared with the House Democrat’s $39 billion spending proposal.

 

“I am most concerned that the Senate Republican budget relies on balancing the budget at the expense of the middle class instead of those who can afford to pay their fair share — be it the largest polluters in our state, or the wealthiest few,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, in a statement.

 

The Senate Republicans’ proposal does call for letting a dozen tax exemptions expire.

 

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, pointed out that ending the exemptions is equivalent to raising taxes and they are “already breaking their promise.”

 

“The House budget is responsible, it addresses our unfair tax structure and makes structural changes,” Moeller said.

 

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, a ranking Republican in the House, said now the real negotiations begin. “We have about a month here, and let’s hope we can iron it out. I think we can,” he said. Lawmakers’ 105-day legislative session is scheduled to end April 26.

 

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