Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Budget season is officially upon us in Olympia. In the past week the Senate approved its operating budget plan in bipartisan fashion and the majority party in the House of Representatives made their proposal public. There are some key differences between the two approaches – most notably that the Senate balances without new taxes where the House would rely on $1.3 billion in tax increases – and I’ll provide more details on the two budgets in this week’s Eastsider’s Report.
While the focus of the week was decidedly on fiscal issues, there were policy matters to discuss as well. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved my bill to allow students under the age of 21 and enrolled in collegiate wine and beer programs to taste – but not consume – alcohol. I’ll provide details on that bill, which now moves to the governor for final approval.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback about any issue facing our state. If you have input on the budget negotiations or a pending policy bill, I want to hear it. Please feel free to contact me anytime via email or by calling me in Olympia at (360) 786-7630.
Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve you in the state Senate.
Sen. Mike Hewitt
Senate adopts bipartisan operating budget plan
Last Friday the Senate approved a bipartisan state operating budget that would invest an additional $1.5 billion in basic education and put more emphasis on funding higher education and early learning.
Notably, the plan does not rely on new taxes to balance.
The $1.5 billion additional investment in K-12 education represents an 11 percent increase compared to the current budget. Higher-education funding grows at the same rate, and support for early learning is increased by more than 20 percent. In contrast, spending on non-education areas of state government grows at a rate of 1.5 percent – far lower than proposed by the governor or the House.
While we didn’t grow state government at a rate some in Olympia would like to see, we were able to fund the priorities of the people of Washington state. This budget is responsible and largely leaves intact the state’s social service “safety net.” As evidence of the balanced approach we took, I’d look no farther than the final vote on the budget.
The Senate operating budget plan passed by a vote of 30-18 with seven members of the minority Democratic caucus joining the bipartisan governing coalition in support. The Senators that voted for the budget represented 30 of the 49 legislative districts in the state, 38 of the 39 counties and over 4.2 million citizens.
This level of bipartisan support for an initial budget proposal is unprecedented in recent memory and reflects the emphasis our coalition has put on collaboration all year. Thankfully – unlike our counterparts in Washington D.C. – the state Senate has been able to work in a transparent, bipartisan manner.
House budget takes different approach
On Wednesday the majority party in the House of Representatives released their operating-budget proposal which opts to raise taxes on state businesses and families by $1.3 billion in the two-year budget cycle that begins on July 1. Like when the governor released his budget proposal, I think most people caught by surprise by the level at which it would increase taxes and numbers of ways in which it would do so.
What is the House proposing to increase taxes on? The list is long and it includes everything from businesses to beer, bottled water and prescription drugs would cost more under the house proposal. To view a chart that lists all of the taxes proposed by the House, as well as those proposed by the governor, click here.
To illustrate the differences in budgeting approaches, below is a graph that compares spending, tax increases and reserve levels among the budgets proposed by the Senate, the governor and the majority party in the House. (Please note that dollar figures below are in millions.)
The budget proposals from the House and governor essentially mirror each other. Meanwhile, you’ll note that the Senate budget increases state spending at a far lower rate and does not increase taxes. As our state recovers from the recent recession and revenues rise, it’s natural that spending would increase to some degree. But the fact that we have more taxes coming into the state than at any point in history should be sufficient proof that general tax increases are not necessary.
A lot of people want to know how the Senate managed to make such substantial investments in education without resorting to taxes as proposed by the governor or the majority party in the House of Representatives. The answer is that we did it by prioritizing the education of students above the growth of state government.
As you can see from the below chart, the Senate budget prioritizes education rather than growing state government. In the House they propose to do both. (Again, dollar figures below are in millions.)
The House budget proposal would increase state-government spending by $3.25 billion – that’s 55 percent more than the Senate proposal. It’s no wonder that while the Senate budget was proposed and passed with bipartisan support, there were only members of the majority party of the House at their press conference.
Another important fact to consider is the reserve levels in the budget proposals. The Senate leaves the state’s constitutionally-protected “Rainy Day” reserve fund intact at $595 million. The House empties the entire fund, spending $258 million of it and putting the rest into an unrestricted reserve account that would be easier for future legislatures to tap into.
By passing a bipartisan Senate budget last week that didn’t rely on tax increases – and still invested an additional $1.5 billion in K-12 education – we showed there’s a responsible way to live within our state’s means. I’m disappointed that my colleagues in the House didn’t make an attempt to do the same.
Walla Walla Community College
The House of Representatives has approved a measure I introduced to allow alcohol tasting – but not consumption – among certain college students under the age of 21 who are enrolled in beer wine and culinary programs. The idea for Senate Bill 5774 was brought to me by officials at the Walla Walla Community College and the bill now moves to the governor’s desk for his signature.
I’m glad my legislative colleagues were able to see that this bill is about enhancing a student’s understanding of a vital part of their future career and not about encouraging underage drinking. There are strict sidebars in the bill that ensure the focus will be on professional development. As I have said, this is every bit as essential to these student’s learning as allowing biology majors to interact with plants would be.
SB 5774 creates a special permit for community colleges with beer, wine and culinary programs to allow students aged 18 and over and enrolled in those programs to taste, but not consume alcohol. Barring a gubernatorial veto the bill will become law automatically and take effect on July 28, which is 90 days after the adjournment of the 2013 regular legislative session.