EYE ON OLYMPIA: State Senate negotiating budget plan

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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OLYMPIA — Weeks of budget negotiations in the state Senate could produce a proposed budget ready for review by the chamber’s Democratic and Republican caucuses by today, the 24th District’s senator said last week.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said Friday his ongoing budget-development work with Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, still is moving forward, although it went late into the night Friday and extended into Saturday.

“We’re really, really close at this point,” Hargrove said.

Hill and Hargrove are the chair and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is tasked with developing the Senate’s version of the state budget.

A Senate budget proposal originally had been expected to be released last week, said state Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Sequim Democrat.

The delay could cause the full state Legislature, which must end its session April 28, to go into a special session, Tharinger said.

“It’s understandable because it’s a huge challenge, but it’s going to probably force us into a special session,” Tharinger said.

Tharinger said Friday that House budget negotiators have been working on a proposal of their own and will most likely be ready to release it after the Senate version is brought forward.

Both the House and Senate likely will pass their own budget proposals quickly, Tharinger said, with the longest-lasting talks expected when each proposal reaches the opposite chamber.

“We need to get that Senate budget in [the House] if we have any hope of getting out on time in April,” Tharinger said. “Then the real discussions and bargaining begin after that.”

Tharinger and Hargrove, along with State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, serve the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Habror County.

Gov. Jay Inslee released last week his 2013-15 budget priorities, the focus of which was to raise $1.2 billion to fund state education as part of a Supreme-Court mandate to better provide for this segment of the state budget handed down last year.

The Inslee proposal would pay for more education funding, in part, by eliminating 11 existing tax exemptions that would generate an estimated
$560 million for the state over the next two years.

Inslee proposed, for example, doing away with the sales tax exemption on bottled water, which would, according to the proposal, generate about $51.5 million for the biennium.

Inslee’s proposals and education as the top priority are a good place to start, Tharinger said, adding that tax breaks are a smart place to start looking for additional state revenue.

“I think the right strategy is looking at those exemptions and seeing if they’re the right investments for the citizens of Washington,” Tharinger said.

Tharinger said company managers in the state have told him they have positions open but have not found workers with the necessary skills.

Tharinger said this shows him that the state should invest more money in basic and higher education, with a potential source of revenue coming from deleting certain tax breaks.

“We are just not generating the revenue to do that without looking at [removing] some form of exemption,” Tharinger said.

Van De Wege called Inslee’s proposal’s “good, not great” but said he was encouraged to see how much Inslee set aside for education and health care.

“He makes some strong investments in education, which we like to see, and some strong investments in mental health and health care over all,” Van De Wege said.

Van De Wege would not comment on any specific tax exemptions Inslee wants to do away with but agreed with Tharinger in saying that tax breaks are a good starting point to consider as the state seeks more revenue to fund its education obligations.

“I won’t say I’m in favor or against any of [the tax exemptions mentioned], but I think closing tax exemptions is a good conversation to have,” Van De Wege said.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 31. 2013 6:12PM
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