Taxes take center stage

Politicians convene special session to finalize budget

— Without a budget in place after 105 days of negotiations, the Washington state Legislature moves into a special session this week.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said a big reason the budget has been delayed is that different lawmakers have vastly different priorities. While Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democrats continue to push for increased taxes, Republicans are holding firm to their belief that the budget can be achieved without the tax hikes.

“There was plenty of time to get at this and get it done earlier, but you’ve got people with egos and people posturing on all sides and it’s really tough to get them screwed down in a room and get it all hammered out,” the veteran 7th District representative said.

“We feel this is not the right time to raise taxes, just like the governor said before he was elected,” 7th District Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, said.

Both Kretz and Smith said at this point, the budget should be the sole focus of the Legislature. But it’s hard to say whether politicians will attempt to spend time resurrecting old bills or bringing forth new plans for policy.

Smith pointed out the May 15 deadline for schools to renew contracts, as well as any businesses that are waiting on the state budget information before making investments or operating decisions.

“I think the longer that we delay this, the longer there will be unintended consequences,” Smith said.

He continues to push for a budget that includes no new taxes, but the Democrats have been pushing for a tax package that includes $1.3 billion in tax increases.

Smith said in the last 10 days of the regular sessions, House Democrats had already realized they didn’t have the votes needed for the $1.3 billion in increases. Further negotiations got that number down to around $900 million, Smith said.

“When it comes down to it, we started with a bi-partisan budget and I think we’ll end with one,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding the right combination that’s going to get everybody content to go home… I think in the long run, we’ll end up with a budget that is going to be closer in resemblance to the one (Republicans) put forward than the one (Democrats) put forward.”

He still believes the budget could be finalized fairly soon.

“The truth is we had every intention of finishing within 105 days,” he said.

“We didn’t necessarily want to go into extra innings, so to speak. We’re certainly going to be working to get this resolved as soon as possible without doing things we feel would jeopardize whatever minute recovery might be happening.”

However, Kretz isn’t quite so optimistic. He feels there is a definite chance the Legislature will still need more time after this week.

“I’m hoping we can wrap it up in one special session and be done, but you’ve got a lot of different interests there and beliefs about how the state ought to be run,” Kretz said.

He said in a lot of regards, this has been the slowest session in which he’s ever been involved. He said he hasn’t seen a lot of progress, even as the deadline for the regular session approached.

“I’ve been kind of disappointed,” he said.

Kretz said the biggest motivator for negotiations to make solid progress is that the new revenue report will be released in early to mid-June, and both parties want to be sure the budget is finalized by then.

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