Getting to ‘yes’ on the state budget as time runs down on regular session

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Ross Hunter recently assessed the challenges ahead in resolving the differences between the House and Senate budgets. 

The Senate and House are in pretty significantly different places. The top level difference is only about a billion dollars, but the underlying differences are much greater than that. We need to come to agreement by Wednesday the 22nd to be able to get the mechanical part of the process completed if we’re to finish on the 26th, the 105th and final day of the regular session.

Just nine calendar days remain, then. To get a good sense of the differences between the chambers, read this Washington Research Council brief comparing the spending plans. Some key differences from the brief.

  • The House-passed budget increases spending by more than $5 billion over 2013–15.
  • The Senate-passed budget increases spending by more than $4 billion over 2013–15.
  • Policy changes in both budgets increase spending for public schools by over half a billion dollars.
  • Neither budget funds I-1351’s $2 billion class size reductions for grades 4–12.
  • The House spends $45 million more than the Senate on K–3 class size reduction and adds more funds for counselors and family engagement.
  • The House freezes tuition, the Senate reduces it.
  • The Senate spends over $40 million more on higher education.
  • The House funds collective bargaining agreements; the Senate provides a general wage increase.
  • Both houses add funds for employee health care premiums.
  • The Senate saves $50 million by reducing spousal health benefits and the Medicare subsidy for employees.
  • Both budgets fund the I-732 cost-of-living adjustment.
  • Both budgets reduce spending on non-DSHS human services.

Hunter’s right. The bottom-line dollar differences are rarely as significant as the policy differences. And the major difference that doesn’t show in the comparison of spending plans is the House’s reliance on tax increases to fund a higher level of appropriations. The WRC says it’ll have an analysis of the tax package soon.

Reports on the first “five corners” meeting of the four legislative caucus leaders with the governor suggest some of the tension likely to mark negotiations. 

Republican leaders claimed the governor issued what amounted to a veto threat unless they raise taxes. Inslee’s office and the budget chief for House Democrats called that nonsense, saying the governor merely made his bargaining position clear.

The Seattle Times also provided a link to Inslee’s talking points

It looks like the various players are still planting their flags in the ground. But if they’re going to close the gap by the end of the regular session, they’ll have to move quickly.