For weeks, Republicans in Olympia have said they can’t start budget negotiations because House Democrats won’t vote on billions in taxes they’ve proposed to pay for their two-year spending plan.
Now, Democrats are leveling the same criticism at Republicans, saying the Republican tax plan is equally reliant on nonexistent dollars because it would need to go to voters for final approval.
“They have a tax proposal that gets sent to the voters in November. They don’t even pass a revenue package,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, at a press conference Thursday. “They send it to the voters.”
The dispute highlights the wide gulf between House Democrats and GOP Senate leaders as they work to agree on a new two-year budget.
Lawmakers are set to adjourn their 105-day session Sunday. But legislative leaders say they won’t be able to come to an agreement on a budget by then and will require a 30-day special session to finish their work.
Democrats hold a slim majority in the state House, while Republicans control the Senate with the aid of one conservative Democrat. Both sides are working to comply with a 2012 court order to fix how the state pays for schools.
For their part, Republicans have said they can’t begin exchanging formal budget offers with Democrats until Democratic leaders show they can pass their tax measures.
“We’re negotiating with ghost dollars. They don’t exist, they haven’t passed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, on Monday.
“It’s really negotiating with a ghost.”
House leaders, meanwhile, have said they don’t want to have their members take a politically difficult vote on a tax package, only to have it head over to the Senate to die.
As a result, lawmakers right now aren’t engaged in formal budget negotiations, in which leaders from each political caucus meet and exchange offers back and forth.
On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee called for an end to the stalemate, which he blamed primarily on GOP leaders’ “preconditions” for negotiations.
“Our students do not need preconditions. Our students need a solution to fully fund education this year,” Inslee said.
In the McCleary case, lawmakers are working to comply with an order to fix the way the state pays for schools by Sept. 1, 2018. The state Supreme Court has said lawmakers must have a school-funding plan in place by the time they adjourn this year.
To do that, Democrats have proposed raising about $7.2 billion in taxes over the next four years, relying mainly on proposed changes to business taxes, a new capital gains tax and increased taxes on the sales of high-value homes.
Republicans, meanwhile, are proposing to raise about $5.5 billion over the same period through a new statewide property tax, while significantly cutting local school district property taxes to offset the costs to taxpayers.
The GOP tax plan would be subject to voter approval in the November election, while the Democratic plan wouldn’t have to go to voters.
Many people would see their property taxes go down under the GOP plan, but others — including people living in areas with high property values, such as Seattle, Mercer Island and Bellevue — would see their taxes rise under the proposal.