March 23, 2015

Democratic budget leaders talk spending, taxes at Lobby Lunch

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, left, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, deputy leader of the Senate Democrats, address the March 19, 2015, AWB Lobby Lunch. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
Lawmakers are about to move from fantasy to reality as it relates to crafting the state's two-year operating budget, according to Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue and lead budget writer in the House.

Hunter, who spoke Thursday at AWB's Lobby Lunch meeting, was referring to what his party believes is a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall due to K-12 education funding increases, mental health treatment and a myriad of other court-mandated spending.

"We live in a world where revenue and spending must match," he said. And, he added, the state budget must match up in both a moral an ethical sense, not just dollars and cents.

Hunter said that the state Supreme Court will likely not approve of any budget decision that does not make significant progress on K-12 education funding, and it's this sizable obligation that puts the state into the red, he said.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, joined Hunter at the weekly lunch meeting. Billig agreed that whatever budget is crafted, there is an understanding that new and increased taxes are necessary.

"Everybody realizes we need new revenue. And this is quite a sea change from a few years ago when there was a 'no-new-taxes' stance in the Senate," Billig said.

Hunter would not answer whether or not his budget would include the governor's controversial cap-and-trade tax revenue, but he said new taxes will be part of his budget plan that is expected to be released before the end of the month.

Billig added that there is a belief that any new taxes passed by the Legislature would be put out to a vote of the people through the initiative or referendum process later this year.

"Tax increases are about value," Billig said. "If Washingtonians believe the budget is good for the state, there will be more tolerance for tax increases."

On the prospect of a transportation funding package, Billig said he believes roads spending is critical and he hopes a compromise can be reached so that Washington state can get started on infrastructure repairs and construction.

Hunter declined to make many comments on the status of the transportation funding package in the House, but did say he was not concerned about how large the spending plan is so long as a compromise is reached.

"I'm optimistic we'll get out on time with a good budget," Billig said. "We always have two different budget plans and in the end we always make it work."