Afternoon Jolt

Inslee Threatens Mass Veto Unless Legislature Resolves Budget Standoff and Avoids Another Special Session

Inslee frustrated with legislature's slow pace as Democrats dig in and criticize tax breaks.

By John Stang March 7, 2016

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At a press conference today, a dead serious governor Jay Inslee threatened to veto everyone's bills on both sides of the aisle unless the Democratic house and GOP senate reach at least a handshake agreement on a 2016-2017 supplemental budget compromise by midnight this Thursday.

The current 60-day session ends Thursday, and Inslee will call the legislature back on Friday if no budget compromise is reached. Inslee said today that roughly 35 bills are waiting on his desk for his signature, and at least 100 more are expected to show up by Thursday. Inslee said he is fine with letting these bills lapse and letting the legislature try to pass them all again next year.

This means Inslee would be vetoing Democratic party bills such as state representative Sharon Tomiko Santos' (D-37, Southeast Seattle) "Education Opportunity Act" which directs the state's public schools to modify programs and train staff to deal with cultural differences for students of color. (The only bill from this session that Inslee has already signed is the McCleary bill which proposes an outline for meeting the Washington State Supreme Court's mandate that the state fully fund K-12 education by 2018. The legislature is currently about $3.5 billion short of that mandate.)

Governor Inslee could allow the bills to be become law without his signature. But Inslee said, “a veto is a much more appropriate vehicle here” to make legislators avoid their annual habit of going into additional special sessions to resolve budget conflicts.

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All sides have been mum about where the budget talks are. “They are way, way short of the pace they need to make a Thursday midnight deadline,” Inslee said.

The budget negotiations have been taking place behind closed doors for many days. The purpose of the 2016-2017 supplemental budget is to tweak the main 2015-2017 $38 million operations budget passed last year in the legislature’s third overtime session. Indications are that the supplemental budget could range from a couple hundred million dollars to several hundred million dollars in extra expenses—depending how much the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund is used.

Both sides believe almost a couple hundred million dollars should be appropriated to cover the extra expenses of fighting roughly one million acres of wild fires in 2015. But the GOP wants only minor tweaks beyond that.

However, the Democrats want to bump rookie teachers’ salaries from $37,500 a year to $40,000 and add a one percent teachers’ salary increase. Republicans entered the budget talks opposing those measures. Democrats also want to take millions of dollars from the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund to allocate to programs to help the homeless.

And Democrats want to close four tax breaks that would raise an extra $102 million in fiscal 2016-2017. Those tax breaks are:  a tax break for oil refineries (originally written for wood products companies), an exemption on sales tax for out-of-state residents, an exemption for a sales tax on bottled water, and real estate excise tax exemption. Democrats have tried to close those four exemptions in all four years of Inslee’s tenure. And each time, the GOP has successfully kept those tax breaks on the books.

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