OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington lawmakers get the weekend off, but then the
real work begins, as the House and Senate General Fund budget plans are
cobbled together in a special session that begins on Monday. Both
chambers want to raise revenue - the Senate through a temporary sales
tax hike; the House with a series of smaller, targeted taxes on things
like bottled water and cigarettes.
However, neither proposal is expected to bring in enough money to cover
the state's expenses. According to Ingrid McDonald, advocacy director
for AARP Washington, that's the problem in a nutshell.
"Their revenue packages have come up short. They've been consistently
whittled down over the last few weeks by special interest groups,
screaming loudly to exempt them or to not tax their specific industry.
The danger that they'll make up the differences through cuts is
Brendon Cechovic, program director for the Washington Environmental Council,
says almost every debate this session has been along party lines. An
example is his group's Clean Water Act, which, for the first time in 22
years, would raise the tax on industries that contribute to stormwater
pollution by just under one percent.
"Raising an existing tax on polluters to clean up the state's biggest
water quality problem, in any given year, would have big bipartisan
support. But they've said, 'We're not taking a single vote to raise a
tax on anybody, anywhere.' When you come in with that sort of position,
it really limits your set of options."
The Senate is proposing more cuts to social services, education and
environmental programs than the House. Tim Welch, communications
director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, says possible furloughs and higher health insurance costs hang in the balance for state workers.
"It really is quite amazing how far apart they are this late in the
session. In the special session, we hope they come to a good
conclusion; we hope it's closer to the House budget and closer to the
Senate revenue plan."
Both budgets do include a few spending increases and, counting federal
money the state expects to receive, the final two-year budget could
actually be a little higher than the previous one. Advocates of no more
cuts have reminded lawmakers that the need for state services also has