The 2015 legislative session did not wrap-up on time because state House Democrats refused to do their jobs and pass a complete, balanced budget. Of course, that would require them to transform their current spending package into an actual budget complete with the new taxes they proposed as revenue sources.
For whatever reason—a lack of political courage or simply a lack of votes—House Democrat leaders would not (and have not) called a vote on the taxes. As a result, budget negotiations could not move forward and the state Legislature was forced into a special session.
With first full week of the special session underway, budget talks continue at a snail’s pace. House Democrats and their nonsensical demands have, once again, caused the hold-up. According to reports, Democrats refuse to budge on their tax proposals—particularly the state capital gains income tax.
Here’s the twisted irony: During the regular session, Democrats stalled budget negotiations because they refused to vote on their tax proposals. During this session special, Democrats are slowing budget negotiations because they refuse to move on tax increases… that they refuse to hold a vote on.
Senate Republicans, on the other hand, continue to point to their balanced budget as proof that further burdening taxpayers with higher/new taxes are not needed to meet our state’s spending obligations. Meanwhile, Jay Inslee is only exasperating problems by insisting lawmakers reconsider his cap-and-tax scheme.
The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier recently said of the lack of progress on budget negotiations, “Right now the House is still saying they want a capital gains tax, the Governor still wants his carbon emissions fee, and the Senate is saying you have 3 billion dollars of new revenue so you don’t need to raise taxes.”
It doesn’t take a policy expert to see which side of the debate is most responsible and rational. Senate Republicans’ budget relies on existing revenue, responsible spending strategies and prioritization of tax revenue to meet constitutional requirements for education funding as ordered by the state Supreme Court’s McClearly decision. The projected revenue growth of $3 billion—a more than 9 percent increase from the last budget—during the next two-year budget cycle (2015-2017) gave lawmakers more than enough money to deal with the spending needs.
As Shift has pointed out, Republicans’ budget truly prioritizes education, spending about $2.7 billion more for education, including $1.3 billion to meet constitutional requirements as ordered in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. In fact, nearly half of the budget is designated to education spending, including—though the Washington Education Associations refuses to acknowledge the fact—cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for teachers. Additionally, Republicans’ budget would cut college tuition rates for the first time since the 1970s. That step represents a tax cut for Washington’s middle class families, according to budget writer and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Andy Hill.
The GOP plan rejects the budget-busting labor contracts secretly negotiated by Inslee and top state employee union executives. Instead, Republicans introduced a new approach. Under Republicans’ budget, every state employee would receive a flat $2,000 raise over the next two years. Sen. Hill pointed out that the new approach would give a larger percentage increase to lower-paid workers and the state would save taxpayers about $75 million in the state’s 2015-17 budget.
Republicans’ no new taxes, balanced budget stands in stark contrast to the House Democrats’ spending package that calls for a more than 15 percent increase in government spending and a $1.5 billion tax increase ($2.4 billion in the following biennia). Specifically, a highly volatile tax like a state capital gains income tax—which is likely to be ruled unconstitutional—and a harmful increase in the business and occupation tax.
All in all, Democrats’ budget continues the pattern of growing the size of state government. Through their budget, Democrats have made it clear that their primary objective is to reward their major campaign donors (i.e. state employee unions) and places those special interests ahead of public education funding.
As for Inslee, by persisting on an issue that did not even garner enough support to pass the Democrat-controlled state House, he has made himself irrelevant. As Shift recently pointed out, Inslee sees himself as a “player on the field,” and not as a “referee-in-chief.” As he continues to act like the partisan player he was in Congress for 15 years and as he threatens to veto any budget that does not raise taxes, he makes himself more and more irrelevant.
Shift has said it before and will continue to say it until the people’s business is completed: whether or not the state Legislature is actually able to get the people’s business done quickly and efficiently is entirely up to Democrat House Speaker Frank Chopp and Jay Inslee. Both “players” have yet to put their extreme partisan interests aside and do their jobs by leading fellow party members and working out compromises with Republicans. And, it’s about time they do that.