In the future, Gov. Jay Inslee will engage earlier and lawmakers will better work across party lines to get a balanced state operating budget, Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, told the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
During a luncheon at the Yakima Valley SunDome, Chandler said this past Legislature was the most unusual in his 15 years as a lawmaker.
He said a high number of first-year legislators coupled with a new governor and a court order to spend more money on education made for a long, hard session.
“It did not surprise me that we went as long as we did,” he said. “I’ve been in long sessions before, but this one was the most challenging.”
Chandler and the newly elected Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, claimed success in navigating a steep learning curve and overcoming partisan lines to produce a balanced $33 billion state operating budget while investing an additional $1 billion in education. They also said it was a victory to fend off a proposed 10.5-cent gas tax in the transportation budget.
Chandler said the operating budget is prudent.
“It’s the first budget in about 15 years that lives within its means,” he said. “All in all, I think there are things you can find to dislike in the budget — it’s huge. But I think those here in the Yakima Valley will find that it was a good year.”
He touted $130 million in the capital budget for the Yakima Basin integrated water plan as a major step toward addressing water issues for years to come. “Water is kind of the political flashpoint. It will be over the next 100 years,” he said.
The integrated plan is a mix of new storage, conservation, protection for fish and watershed protection. “It does generate more water, about 60 percent of what we’ll need over the next 30 years,” Chandler said. “I think it will prove itself.”
Manweller said the budget not only committed additional funds for education, but also put a lid on tuition fees, which have increased by 7 percent a year over the past four years.
“We are pricing our way out of the market,” Manweller said of high tuition. “We passed a budget that said we are going to backfill education some expenses and we’re not going to allow four-year universities to raise tuition.”
The additional funds for K-12 education will be spent on reducing class sizes, funding all-day kindergarten programs and alleviating some of the pressure local school levies are putting on property owners.
On Jan. 5, 2012, the Washington state Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s ruling that the Legislature was not adequately funding education. The state must increase education spending by $6 billion over six years, Manweller said.
Also folded into the budget was a half-million-dollar tax break for the state’s largest dairy production company, Darigold. The private company is headquartered in Seattle and has 15 facilities in six states, including a plant in Sunnyside.
But the break on business-and-occupation taxes on infant formula is contingent on whether the company erects an infant formula plant somewhere in Washington, Chandler said. He said Darigold is still waiting to hear if a business partner is interested in bringing such a business to the state.
“They don’t have a deal yet,” he said. “It just puts them in the game.”
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or email@example.com.