WA Legislature passes state budget in 11th hour

The Washington State Legislature finally passed a state budget this week, taking negotiations into the eleventh hour to get the job done.

The budget deal passed the Senate with a 44-2 vote, and moved through the House on a 64-34 vote.

With the threat of a third special session looming for state lawmakers, Gov. Christine Gregoire said she was pleased that the elusive common ground on the budget was found.

"I'm pleased the Legislature reached an agreement this morning (April 11) to solve our budget shortfall. The supplemental budget passed preserves critical programs, including education, and sets our state on a more sustainable path," she said.

The $31.1 billion budget increases taxes with the closing of a loophole for large banks and a roll-your-own cigarette tax. Those two tactics are estimated to raise an additional $26.5 million for the state in the near future.

Along with that, the state plans to temporarily hold local sales tax collections for a slightly longer period of time than it has in the past. This is anticipated to generate $238 million for the state. The budget also leaves $320 million in reserves.

The lead budget writer for the Senate Democrats, Ed Murray, said it was a tough fight that ultimately achieved the desired outcome.

"Months ago we began our work on this budget, we faced the prospect of making deep cuts to all state services," he said. "Today, we passed a budget that held the line on education. We passed a budget that preserved services that keep the most vulnerable Washingtonians safe and healthy. We protected family planning, food assistance and other services that had been targeted for cuts or outright elimination."

"It's taken longer than I would have liked to reach this point," he added.

From the Republican side, Sen. Joseph Zarelli said from his perspective, a number of reforms he and his side held to, along with passing the budget, were a victory.

"Our coalition stood firm on a set of breakthrough reforms and a supplemental budget that should aid our state's financial outlook for decades to come," he said. "It's safe to figure none of these reforms would have made it through the Legislature if our bipartisan coalition had not taken the lead on the budget process in the Senate, and we would not have had a bipartisan coalition without the three Democratic senators who were rock-solid in their commitment to reforms that would make a difference. They proved ideas were stronger than affiliations."

Gregoire said the budgetary fight shouldn't overshadow accomplishments from the Legislature's regular session.

"Washington state became the 7th in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill, we made great strides in education reform, and we took action to improve our state's competitiveness in the global aerospace industry," she said.

"Our job isn't done. Implementing this supplemental budget won't be easy, but I'm confident we've developed a solution that protects our state's financial future while preserving critical programs that Washingtonians rely on."

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