Washington legislators Tuesday got the news they were waiting for. And with a drop-dead July 1 deadline looming, there’s no need to wait any longer on crafting a budget deal and adjourning — finally — the 2013 session.
The state’s latest budget forecast calls for $110 million in extra revenue for the current 2011-13 biennium that can be carried over into the 2013-15 budget. There is another $121 million in extra revenue expected for 2013-15, plus $90 million freed up by less reliance on government services.
Subject to dispute is whether the Legislature’s recent closure of a $160 million estate tax loophole counts as an extra tax. Senate leaders, reflecting Republican control enabled by two crossover Democrats, say it does. The Democratic-controlled House says the move merely prevents the loss of $160 million.
Semantics aside, the new budget forecast provides plenty of cause for lawmakers to finally approve a budget after a 105-day regular session and a 30-day special session; the latter cost at least $77,000 without the passage of one piece of legislation. State officials, now in a second special session, are backing off talk of shutting down various aspects of state government should a budget deal not be in place by July 1.
And there is no need for that brinkmanship, even if there are differences in budget priorities and approaches. There are even differences in accounting; all of these are part of the legislative give-and-take. Put most simply, Republicans appear willing to drop some of their policy changes, such as workers compensation reform and giving school principals more say in teacher assignments, in return for Democrats dropping their demands for tax increases. While we would agree with many of the Republican-sought changes, they shouldn’t stand in the way of a budget agreement at this late juncture.
During the 2012 elections, most candidates campaigned with crossed fingers that an improving economy would allow the state to avert the wrenching budget debates of recent recession-wracked years. Their optimism appears to have been realized, but that doesn’t mean the Legislature can put aside talk of serious reforms of state-worker pensions, schools and worker’s comp in future sessions.
In addition, Democrats say the demands of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, which will require to state to spend an estimated $4 billion to $4.5 billion in extra funds by 2019 to fully fund basic education in K-12 schools, may necessitate future tax increases. We will note that both houses have allocated about $1 billion in extra funds, necessitated by McCleary, without general tax increases. Advocates of future tax hikes will need to clearly state where the money would go and who would be accountable.
But for now, the latest budget forecast gives lawmakers plenty to keep state government operating — and to conclude this year’s multiple legislative sessions.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.