The Legislature will blow past Saturday’s statutory deadline for adopting the 2013-15 biennium budget without any expression of public outrage. There were no protests, and no angry confrontations with lawmakers who seem equally as unconcerned with the glacial progress in forging a compromise.
Both sides are waiting for the June 19 revenue forecast before getting serious about hammering out a final budget, just as they waited for the March revenue forecast during the regular session. Waiting for these revenue forecasts is a fool’s game.
No one expects a magical windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars to suddenly show up in two weeks. It’s irresponsible to delay serious budget negotiations.
Everyone expects the new revenue forecast to show an improving trend. But no amount of money will reduce the magnitude of the philosophical differences between the Republican-controlled senate and the Democratic House.
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Republican senators refuse to consider new revenue options, though they are quite willing to raid the timber trust fund of $160 million, and then double-count it. It’s a budget trick that may be unconstitutional.
The Senate budget also relies on charging higher tuition rates for international students, which the universities have said actually will reduce, not increase, higher education funding. Adding insult to injury, the Republicans in the Senate also roll back tuition for colleges and universities by 3 percent.
The House budget makes the better starting place for a compromise. By closing tax loopholes being enjoyed by those for whom they weren’t intended and extending existing taxes, the House generates the revenue needed to fund K-12 education.
The flaw in the House budget is a shameless raid on nearly all of the state’s rainy-day fund. State Treasurer James McIntire, a Democrat, has warned state lawmakers against tapping the fund to resolve budget problems.
Cleaning out the fund could affect the state’s credit rating, McIntire said, resulting in higher interest costs. Not to mention that the reserve might be needed for a real emergency, such as an unexpectedly busy forest fire season and other natural disasters.
Previous Legislatures have missed the Saturday deadline without any court challenge. But that’s no excuse.
The July 1 deadline is another matter. The state needs to pay its bills, and agencies need budget authorization to do so. It’s ludicrous to create the financial complexities of how to meet the state’s financial obligations after July 1 without a budget.
But that means Republicans and Democrats will have to negotiate in good faith, and both sides will have to compromise.
Rigidly refusing to consider closing at least some tax loopholes that provide no benefit to the people of Washington state must not stand in the way of completing the only remaining task required of state lawmakers.