By Rachel La Corte March 13, 2014, Associated Press
House and Senate leaders on Thursday unveiled 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 is a compromise that negotiators reached this week, and comes hours before the Legislature is set to adjourn its 60-day session. Both chambers will each need to pass the measure before midnight. The House is set to vote first, later in the afternoon.
The budget proposal has $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 approved by the House.
“Things that are not agreed to by both sides are not in this budget,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina. “We have more work to do next year on many different fronts. And I look forward to that.”
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.
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 James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, ranking Democrat on the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. “Frankly I think there’s going to have to be a grand compromise to get there.”