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State House passes budget with more education money

The Washington State House of Representatives unveiled its budget last week and passed it with a 54-43 vote.

The House budget pencils in $1.3 billion in new revenues as the first volley in meeting the requirements of fully funding education — as set forth in last year's Supreme Court case, McCleary vs. State of Washington.

The vote was divided along party lines. From the 30th District, which represents the Federal Way area, State Rep. Roger Freeman (D) voted yes and State Rep. Linda Kochmar (R) voted no. The lone dissenting Democrat was State Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver.

The House budget is similar to the one released by Gov. Jay Inslee in recent weeks, and uses much of the same plan to raise the needed money for education funding.

Most notably, the House budget coincides with Inslee's plan in extending taxes on some businesses and a .50-cent beer tax, which is projected would raise $600 million. Also like Inslee's plan, the House budget looks to close or tighten up perceived tax "loopholes" and similar exemptions. Among those would be preferential tax rates for insurance and travel agents, to nixing the sales tax exemptions on things like bottled water.

Another interesting feature of the House budget would be the repeal of the sales tax break of Washington state residents who live in states without a sales tax, such as Oregon.

State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), who is the lead budget writer for the House, was quoted as saying the budget is a "balanced, responsible approach to both the long- and short-term problems we face."

Two additional exemptions that would be changed deal with landline telephone services, and the estates of married couples, a move that the House projects would raise $270 million.

Along with this, the House proposes moving $575 million out of the state's "rainy day" fund toward education funding, although that particular move may not get much traction, because of a rule requiring a 60 percent vote to take money out of the "rainy day" fund.

Inslee said he was pleased with the House budget.

"The House proposal closely reflects the priorities I put forward two weeks ago. This budget sends a very clear message: Educating our children is more important than preserving tax breaks. The House meets our basic education obligations without making deeper cuts to vital services to our most vulnerable citizens," he said.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said the House budget was the "first time I can remember…want(ing) to thank an appropriations committee." Dorn continued, saying that the House budget "puts us on the path to fully funding education by 2018," and that it "aligns with the initial stages of education reform as outlined in Substitute House Bill 2776 and the work of the Quality Education Council."

"We know where we need to be by 2018. This proposal is a good first step," Dorn added.

The last day of the current legislative session is April 28. If a final budget is not negotiated by that date, the Legislature will go into a special session.

FYI

• No Republicans voted in favor of the budget. State Rep. Gary Alexander (R-Olympia), the budget leader for House Republicans, called the proposal “extremely partisan.” Click here to read more about Republican opposition to the budget proposal.

• According to State Rep. Roger Freeman's office, the House's capital budget proposal invests $2 million for the performing arts and conference center in Federal Way; $5 million in loans for the Lakehaven Utility District's Green River filtration facility; and $1.3 million in loans for Lakehaven's Lakota Digester Mixer Replacement Project.

Senate

The Washington State Senate passed its $33.2 billion budget on April 5, featuring no new taxes but roughly $1 billion to fund education. Click here to learn more.

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