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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee Vows To 'Kickstart' Budget Negotiations In Washington State

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference in Olympia on Monday. He said budget negotiators needed a ''kick start'' because their negotiations are not moving fast enough to avoid a partial government shutdown on July 1 if there's no budget.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is sounding the alarm over the pace of budget negotiations at the state Capitol. During a media availability Monday, the Democrat said that it’s time for both sides to make “major moves” toward compromise.

“Legislators need a kick start,” Inslee said.

So what is the “kick start” Inslee said legislators need? The governor is insisting that budget writers begin face-to-face negotiations immediately, instead of just passing offers back and forth. He said they’ve agreed. But that’s not going to be enough.

“They have to make major moves on spending, they’re going to have to make major moves on revenue in order to have something that will actually meet the needs of the state of Washington,” the governor said.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans must agree on a budget for the next two years and make the last down payment on a constitutional public school system. If they don’t figure this out by June 30, the state will go into a partial government shutdown.

Even if lawmakers make progress toward a deal this week, Inslee will likely have to call a third special session to give lawmakers time to iron out the details and approve the final package. The current, 30-day special session ends June 21.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican, said he’s confident the legislature will reach a deal on the budget soon.

“We are pleased that we’ve made as much progress as we have and we’ll happily continue working with our Democrat counterparts to do right by the more than one million school children in Washington,” Schoesler said.

Washington lawmakers are under a Supreme Court order in the McCleary case to amply fund public schools as required by the state Constitution by the 2018-19 school year. The state is currently in contempt of court and has been accruing a $100,000-per-day fine since August of 2015 for not providing the court with a complete plan to achieve full funding.

Schoesler noted that a bipartisan school funding team—separate from the budget negotiating team—has been meeting several times a week. He said that a solution to the McCleary school funding mandate “is nearing completion.”

Previously, Senate Republicans proposed to eliminate local school levies and impose a new state property tax levy to fund schools. House Democrats countered with a proposed tax package that included a new capital gains tax, which Inslee has now said is off the table.

But Inslee reiterated Monday that he believes new or higher taxes will be necessary.

“There’s simply no way to amply fund our schools without significant additional revenue,” the governor said.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."