Just one week ago, the governor vetoed a bill after a huge, unprecedented public outcry. Over 20,000 people contacted Gov. Inslee’s office on the matter, and legislators got an earful from angry constituents. Voters said pretty clearly that on important matters, they don’t want legislators jamming legislation through without time for public input.
But if there were any lessons learned from the incident, they didn’t last long. Not even a week after the much-ballyhooed veto, legislative Democrats are back to jamming through far-reaching legislation – and the Senate GOP’s budget chief says one aspect “violates the spirit and intent of voter-approved protections.”
Democrats waited until the very end of session – it’s scheduled to end today – to reveal their final budget plan. It includes higher mental health spending and delivers a teacher pay raise this year instead of next year.
The fleshed-out budget proposal was released yesterday at 5:00 p.m., giving citizens virtually no time to learn the details. Lesson learned? Hardly.
Democrats want to swipe Rainy Day funds
The agreed-upon budget plan from Senate and House Democrats includes SB 6614, which would take money from the state budget reserves known as the Rainy Day fund and spend it on higher teacher salaries. Lens summarizes:
“Sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5), SB 6614 as originally proposed would have lowered the state property tax rate in 2018 by $.30, a total of $431 million, and replaced that lost revenue in the general fund by withdrawing that amount from the rainy-day fund. The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Ways and Means last month. The adopted striker amendment introduced by Sen. Christine Rofles (D-23) would push the property tax reduction back to 2019, and funnel $935 million in state property taxes collected in 2019 into the education legacy trust account to fund basic education.
“Doing so would redirect roughly $700 million meant to replenish the rainy-day fund.”
State tax revenues are growing at an incredible rate. Flush times are when the state is supposed to be adding to Rainy Day funds, not spending them. The point of the fund is to actually have money in it, so they state can better weather economic downturns.
State Treasurer Duane Davidson warned about the hit the state’s bond rating could take if legislators swipe Rainy Day funds, calling it a “self-inflected wound.” Davidson also warned lawmakers of why the fund exists:
“We’ve had 10 recessions since World War II. Another will come – perhaps sooner than we anticipate. With the growing concerns of trade wars and market volatility, now is the time to build Rainy Day balances even higher. The historic boom we are in will not last and when the recession comes all will be grateful if the Legislature is far-sighted today and allows this continued growth.”
The Seattle Times said of the Rainy Day raid, “This is an idea that should have been vetted in public. Yet it never received as much as a public hearing, contributing to a last-minute political meltdown that could have been avoided.”
Braun calls move felony gimmick
Using the Rainy Day funds for general spending is perfectly legal – if it receives 60% votes in the Legislature. Since Republicans aren’t going along with the plan, Senate Democrats tried to pass a workaround plan Wednesday, causing a floor fight.
Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), the Senate budget writer when Republicans were in the majority, called the workaround a “felony budget gimmick” and added, “Constitutional protections for budget reserves shouldn’t be viewed as simply an inconvenience for budget writers. They are in place to protect important state services and taxpayers.”
So, with full Democratic control of the levers of state government, in flush economic times, and with no particular budget crises to deal with, Democrats managed to release their budget proposal at the very last minute and need Rainy Day funds to pay for all their spending. Gee, where did they ever get the reputation for being chaotic and too happy to tax-and-spend?