Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I’m proud to share that yesterday the Senate released a bipartisan budget plan that keeps our promises to make substantial investments in Washington’s education system without raising taxes. Because things are moving quickly – a vote on the plan could come as early as tomorrow – I’m checking in a day earlier than normal to provide you with a high-level summary of the budget as it stands.
It’s imporant to keep in mind that this is only one step in the budget negotiation process. Last week the governor released his proposal and Democrats in the House of Representatives will likely follow with theirs next week. That said, I’m excited about the Senate plan and I’m hopeful that folks in Olympia will come around to the fact that, at a time our state is receiving more tax dollars than any time in history, there’s no need to raise taxes.
As budget negotiations continue it is particularly important that I hear from you. Please feel free to share your thoughts and concerns about the state budget with me through email or by calling me in Olympia at (360) 786-7630.
Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to serve you in the state Senate.
Sen. Mike Hewitt
Senate releases bipartisan budget plan
Yesterday members of the Senate’s bipartisan governing coalition partnered with minority-caucus members to release an operating budget plan. Now I know that the term “bipartisan” gets thrown around a lot in politics, but I’m proud to say that this budget proposal truly reflects the input of legislators on both sides of the aisle. I can tell you that this was the first time in my Senate tenure when members of both parties appeared in the press conference together announcing an operating budget proposal.
I’ll go into more detail below, but the takeaway for me is pretty simple: my goal all session has been for the Senate to craft a budget that increases investments in education while living within our means, and we did that. Unlike the budget proposed by the governor last week which relies on $1.2 billion in new taxes, the Senate budget balances without raising revenue. I think more than a few people in Olympia were taken by surprise yesterday with this game-changer of a budget.
How was the Senate able to balance the budget without raising taxes? In short, by prioritizing the education of students over the growth of state government. The governor billed his tax increases as being for education but it’s important to note that over $850 million of the $1.2 billion in new taxes he proposed went to growing general government, rather than education. In the Senate we put education first.
Below is a high-level summary of the plan.
2013 Senate bipartisan operating budget plan
- A responsible, sustainable budget
- The $33.3 billion two-year budget stays in balance over four years without dipping into the state’s “Rainy Day” reserve account
- No new taxes
- Unlike Gov. Inslee’s budget proposal which relies on $1.2 billion in new taxes, the Senate budget balances without raising taxes
- Instead, the Senate plan utilizes the $2 billion more that the state is anticipated to receive in revenue in the coming budget cycle
- Prioritizes education
- The Senate budget would invest an additional $1.5 billion in K-12 education, with $1 billion of that going towards the definition of “basic education” detailed in the recent state Supreme Court case that found the state wasn’t fulfilling its duty to fully fund education
- That’s an 11 percent increase in education funding from the last budget
- Higher education spending would also increase by 11 percent, which allows for a three percent decrease in tuition
- Early-learning spending would increase by 20 percent
- In all, 89 percent of new revenue goes towards education
- Controls growth of state government
- Non-education government spending rises at an average of around 1.5 percent, which is far lower than proposed by the governor
I’ll circle back next week to provide a more in-depth summary of the Senate budget. If there’s a specific program you’re interested in, please let me know and I’ll share details on it. For the time being, if you’re interested in specifics on the budget, below are links to two documents prepared by non-partisan Senate budget staff.
An overview of the budget, which contains information on total spending levels and funding for broad issue areas, can be found here.
The agency budget detail summary, which includes specific information on state agencies and the fiscal effect of pending legislation, can be found here.
Next steps – where we go from here
The Senate held budget committee meetings yesterday and today to discuss the finer points of the plan. In the next few days, we’ll likely bring it to a vote on the Senate floor. Once it passes, it will move to the House of Representatives. The House will introduce a proposal of its own and we’ll work to come together on a single budget that can be sent to the governor. I remain hopeful this can happen within the 105-day regular session, which ends on April 28.
Whether to raise taxes is likely to be the biggest sticking point in budget negotiations. The debate will center around a pair of tax increases enacted in 2010 – a 20 percent hike in the state’s business and occupation tax for the service industry, and an increase in the beer tax equal to 50 cents per gallon (about $1.12 on a case of beer). Those taxes are set to expire with the end of the budget cycle on June 30. Gov. Inslee has proposed they be made permanent, and others will likely follow suit.
Now as you know, I didn’t support the taxes in the first place. In fact, I voted against them three times. But if there was any doubt whether they should be continued, I think that the Senate budget is proof that we need to keep our promise and let them expire. That groaning sound you may have heard yesterday was from people in Olympia who support raising taxes as they realized it just got harder to make their case.