A simple but significant question that prevented a budget agreement during the Legislature’s 105-day regular session remains in the overtime that began April 24: No one really knows where the House of Representatives stands on raising taxes.
In March, the Senate passed a new, balanced two-year budget that supports a comprehensive solution to our state’s education-funding and student-achievement concerns. The House of Representatives responded with half of a budget — how to spend almost $45 billion — but wouldn’t vote on the half that would actually raise the money required to pay for it.
In our Legislature, any new state budget represents a compromise between a plan supported by at least 25 senators and a plan backed by at least 50 representatives. The Senate budget relies on traditional, stable taxes and almost $3 billion in new revenue generated by increased economic activity.
In contrast, House Democratic leaders can only claim 50 members would support the untested and destabilizing taxes needed to balance their plan. They refuse to conduct an actual vote.
Finding middle ground is difficult if not impossible when only one side commits to a position. Given that the House plan won’t balance without $8 billion in new taxes over the next four years, we’ve asked House leaders to complete their budget by voting on their tax proposals. This reasonable request has some Democrats saying Republicans are asking them to take a “bad vote.”
A vote is “bad” only when it’s out of step with a majority of your constituents and you fear it cannot be defended back home.
Another House leader recently claimed their tax increases would have broad public support. If true, there should be no downside to publicly endorsing higher taxes on individuals, families and employers.
The Senate has already taken its tax vote, to keep property taxes as the primary source of school support but in a new, statewide flat-rate way. Our Education Equality Act invests more state money in students while returning state government to its constitutional role of primary provider for basic education. As a bonus, the Senate approach also lowers taxes for 83 percent of property owners.
This is the fairest way to correct decades of inequitable funding that have provided fewer resources for students in low-income and high-need communities. When a Tacoma-area bowling alley pays more taxes to fund local schools than a Medina golf and country club, the system is neither fair nor equitable.
While I disagree that massive new taxes are necessary, especially to fund what is supposed to be our paramount constitutional duty for Washington’s children, I respect the legislative process. If the House majority approved its tax proposal, that would send a powerful message to the Senate, and we could negotiate from equally committed positions. Otherwise, the House has only a spending list that dodges the realities of governing.
Endorsing a balanced budget is critical for negotiations because it establishes priorities. An underfunded wish list leaves everyone wondering which programs the House feels are truly important and must be included in a budget compromise and which programs are merely on paper to appease special interests.
Governing, especially in a philosophically divided Legislature, requires a majority of elected legislators to act as one for our state, no matter how difficult that may be.
Our Senate majority remains committed to working with the House toward a bipartisan solution that combines the best ideas regardless of whose they are. But we need to know what’s practical and what’s posturing.
Good-faith negotiations on solving our education-funding and equity issues are well under way; happily, K-12 will account for over 50 percent of spending for the first time since 1983.
But beyond that, the House majority needs to prove its tax proposals have majority support or offer an updated revenue and budget package that can actually win 50 votes. Then we’ll be able to make progress toward agreement on education and overall state funding, creating the one Washington people deserve.
Sen. John Braun (R) represents the 20th Legislative District and serves as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.