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WashingtonVotes NEWS: Friday, April 17, 2015

State lawmakers introduce new education funding bills as budget talks stall

House and Senate budget writers met this week to work on a compromise spending plan for 2015-17. The Senate passed a no-new-taxes proposal that would spend about $37.8 billion, while the House-passed plan calls for $38.8 billion that would require nearly $1.5 billion in additional taxes, including a tax on capital gains and a tax increase on service businesses.

The talks stalled Wednesday when Senate Republicans said House Democrats had failed to hold votes on the capital gains and business tax increases they want to impose to fund their budget proposal. Democratic leaders said they wanted to discuss a compromise first, before asking their members to go on record as casting unpopular votes for a higher tax burden on Washingtonians.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) said Senate Republicans were hopeful a deal could be reached, but lead Democratic budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) warned the stall in talks doesn’t bode well for finalizing a budget before the scheduled end of the legislative session a week from Sunday.

Meanwhile, House and Senate lawmakers introduced new bills this week on local school levy reform as part of the legislature’s response to the McCleary court decision. Many school districts currently direct local tax money to basic education, the part of public education that is supposed to be funded by the state.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) introduced Senate Bill 6109 to lower local property tax rates while raising statewide property taxes by a matching amount. Under the bill, the local levy rate would be capped at $1.25 per $1,000 of property value, while raising the state levy by about $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Senate Bill 6102, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) and 18 other Senate Democrats, would pay for local levy reductions with a yearly 7 percent state tax on capital gains of $250,000 for single taxpayers or $500,000 for couples. The tax would not apply to gains on the sale of a personal residence. The proposal would raise some $1.2 billion in the next two years and would target about 7,500 Washington families. Sen. Ranker also introduced a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 8206, to limit the dollar amounts to which the new capital gains taxes could be applied.

Other bills introduced this week include Senate Bill 6104, by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) to phase in a new teacher basic pay system for grades K-3 in 2017, and for grades 4-12 after 2018. Sen. James Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) introduced Senate Bill 6103, to limit local levy money for teacher salaries, while increasing the state’s portion of basic teacher pay until the shift is complete in 2023. House Bill 2239, sponsored by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) would also implement new teacher salary models by 2018, but would leave it to the next legislature to work out the details.

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