The state Legislature adopted—and Jay Inslee signed—a new state budget with mere hours to spare before triggering a July 1 partial state government shutdown. The state Senate passed the budget on a 38-10 vote, while the margin in the state House was 90-8 vote.
The $38.2 billion no-new-taxes budget is the result of the Republican-controlled state Senate’s insistence on responsibility and sustainability. The budget—which includes the compromises expected from a divided state government – is far more aligned with the state Senate’s last proposal than with any of ideas that came from Jay Inslee or House Democrats. Most significantly, it does not include any of Inslee’s top tax priorities: a state capital gains income tax, his cap-and-tax scheme, or a small business tax hike.
In other words, Republicans won the tax battle and protected taxpayers from what would have been the largest tax increase in state history – if Democrats had gotten their way.
Republicans also ensured that the state budget truly prioritizes our public schools, both K-12 and higher education. The new budget constitutes the largest allocation of spending for education in state history. In meeting the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision lawmakers managed to devote a whopping 47.5% of state budget to education. That’s a level that has not been seen in the last 30 years—due to the fact that a Democrat governor has signed every state budget since 1985, and Democrats have controlled at least one house of the legislature for 28 of the last 30 years.
The new state budget spends $2.9 billion more on public schools, increasing spending from the current $15.26 billion to $18.15 billion. That’s a 19% increase.
Republicans also won big on higher education. The new state budget includes the Senate Republicans’ College Affordability Program (CAP), which partially lifts the heavy tuition burden which Democrats have placed on middle class families for decades. In what amount to a quarter-billion dollar tax cut for middle income families, CAP will cut tuition at the University of Washington and Washington State University by 15 percent over two years. Other state universities will see a 20% tuition cut over the same time frame. And, community college tuition will decrease by five percent starting July 2016.
One hitch remains to producing a fully balanced budget: lawmakers still need to suspend the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) money-grab initiative, I-1351. The budget assumes a $2 billion reduction of spending for I-1351. The vote to suspend I-1351 requires 2/3rds approval in both chambers. That hasn’t happened yet, as pointed by the Washington Policy Center,
“Though the new budget is only a few hours old, there is already a $2 billion cloud hanging over it. Although the House kept up its end of the budget deal by suspending the unfunded class size reduction initiative (I-1351), around 6 a.m. this morning the Senate Democrats failed to live up to the deal by refusing to vote for the suspension unless the Senate passed a different bill first.”
Rather than abiding by a previous agreement, Senate Democrats “said they could muster the required votes if Senate Republicans would approve a school testing reform bill that already cleared the House.” The bill in question “would remove a requirement that students pass a biology test or an approved alternative to graduate from high school.” The bill was already rejected by the state Senate earlier in the legislative session.
With no deal in sight, the state Senate decided to adjourn until Friday. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler put it best when he called Democrats’ demand “extortion.” Once again, Democrats are holding the people’s business hostage to their demands.
Today, Inslee issued a statement that amounts to declaration that he will not involve himself in helping to fix the mess made by the Senate Democrats. His lack of political courage concerning I-1351 should come as no surprise. After all, he refused to give his opinion on I-1351 until after the vote already occurred when he revealed he voted against it.