In Crosscut today, Melissa Santos asked a question that occurred to many Olympia watchers: The state budget is still secret. So why are WA lawmakers voting on new taxes?
Leaders of Washington’s Legislature announced Thursday that they had reached a deal on a new two-year state operating budget, but wouldn’t release details of the plan to reporters or the public.
That didn’t stop them from voting later that night on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases to help pay for it all.
At about 11 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate approved changes to the state real-estate excise tax, which will likely bankroll a significant portion of the Legislature’s new budget deal. Senate Democratic leaders said the measure would raise about $600 million over the next four years.
Frustrating, surely, but not unusual. Last minute budget-writing has become normal; it may always have been thus. But the rush to boost taxes when revenues have been rising at unprecedented levels does justify some questioning.
And, of course, things are moving quickly again today.
In the Seattle Times, Joseph O’Sullivan reports,
The passage Thursday night of Senate Bill 5998 is the latest example of how state budget deals can come together in secrecy and with little public review before being approved.
Budget agreements in recent years came together just days shy of a government shutdown, as Democrats and Republicans battled it out under divided control at the Legislature. This year, Democrats have comfortable majorities in the House and Senate, and a natural ally in Gov. Jay Inslee.
But it’s hard to know at this point what they intended to do by Sunday, the regularly scheduled end of the legislative session.
SB 5998 could be the biggest revenue bill of a new 2019-21 state operating budget agreement — or maybe not. It isn’t even known whether this is the final version of the legislation…
SB 5998 makes changes to the real estate excise tax (REET), which is typically paid by people selling homes. The version approved Thursday night was a rewrite of the original legislation.
When Senate lawmakers passed it around 11:30 p.m. by a vote of 26-22, there was no updated legislative analysis of how much money the bill might raise, or how many home sellers would pay the different rates being created.
Back to the question raised by Santos: Like the contents of the budget and tax bills, the reason for the rush to pass the tax bill is not clear. She writes,
“We have a budget, we have a framework, we have a plan,” said [Senate budget lead Christine] Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Thursday afternoon. At that point, House and Senate leaders had agreed on the budget and the tax measures to pay for it, she said, but each chamber was still building support among its members.
Asked if she could share what tax measures were in the budget, she said, “Not yet, but tomorrow.”
That was around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. A few hours later, the chamber was voting on some of those tax measures on the floor.
As of Friday morning, what the money would pay for, exactly, remained unclear.
Wait and see. And contact your legislator.