Clock Ticks as Budget Writers Draw their Lines in the Sand
Budget writers from both chambers unveiled their latest “offers” this week, and neither side appears to have reached much compromise. Each feature relatively minor adjustments — with the only real change coming as a result of the state’s rosier than expected revenue forecast.
Senator Andy Hill released his offer SB 6050 last Friday, and the House budget chair Ross Hunter released his offer, HB 1106, earlier this week. The clock is ticking as lawmakers face a looming July 1 government shutdown, and a US Open tee-time that will surely cause headaches if lawmakers don’t leave town soon.
Our advocates have continued to advocate for affordable tuition rates, increased financial aid and expanded access to high-demand degrees like computer science and medical education. Both proposals demonstrate that lawmakers are listening, but they also fall short on providing all of the funding necessary.
The new Senate’s biggest higher ed policy change is its proposal to roll back college tuition by tying it to 14% of the state’s median wage. The second offer keeps the proposal, and makes just a slight modification to its implementation. OPB estimates that the Senate offer is still about $3.7 million short of paying for the loss in tuition revenue resulting from the proposed tuition reduction.
State Treasurer James McIntire expressed concerns about the Senate’s tuition-slashing proposal and the Guaranteed Education (GET) Program, says the Seattle Times. His concerns are echoed by many anxious parents who have pre-paid for their students college tuition through the state-run program, which was designed on the premise that tuition will always trend up. We urge the Legislature to fully explore these concerns and do no harm to the investments made by these families.
The House offer proposes to maintain the tuition freeze of the last two years. If passed, tuition would remain at the level charged in the 2012-13 academic year for the next biennium. OPB estimates that the total funding proposed by the House is not enough to pay for all that it has proposed – including the tuition freeze.
The Senate previously proposed a $1,000 raise per employee instead of offering the percentage increases that were negotiated during the collective bargaining agreement process. The new offer authorizes the negotiated 3% and 1.8%, but OPB estimates that the proposal will fall short of necessary funding to honor the collective bargaining agreements.
The House hasn’t changes the structure of its compensation proposals, however, the funding mechanism did change. The most recent funding proposal appears to fall short of all it promises to do — including both a tuition freeze and proposed salary increases – by about $4.5 million over the biennium.
The Senate significantly boosted its proposed funding for WWAMI Spokane in its latest offer – up to $9 million over the biennium (as opposed to the $2.5 million initially proposed). The offer does make some demands of the program, including an audit and a requirement that the University earn legislative approval before partnering with another university.
The House offer is unchanged from its initial proposal — $4.68 million per year (for a total of $9.36 million over the biennium) to maintain the UW’s WWAMI program in Spokane.
The House’s original budget proposal enacted about $1.5 billion in new taxes. The new offer drops most of that, including the closure of several tax loopholes, but does maintain the implementation of a capital gains tax. The state’s revenue forecast came back rosier than expected, which provided House budget writers with the cash to pay for some of their spending priorities without having to raise additional taxes.
The House reduced its spending by about $450 million in total, but the two budget proposals remain about $633 million apart, according to the Washington Research Council. Senate lawmakers argue that the state doesn’t need any additional taxes to meet funding demands, while lawmakers on the side of the House continue to stress the need for at least some additional revenue. Democratic leaders say that the Senate offer still falls about $500 to $600 million short, according to the Times.
Gov. Inslee is holding daily budget meetings in order to hammer out an operating budget deal before the potential July 1 partial government shutdown deadline, but many are pushing for a much earlier deadline. Lawmakers might soon be out of a place to stay if they don’t get out of Olympia before the thousands head into town for the US Open at nearby Chambers Bay Golf Course. Tee-off gives lawmakers until June 11 to find agreement.