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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."

Washington Lawmakers Pass Budget To Avert Imminent Government Shutdown

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If you have a reservation at a Washington state park this weekend or you rely on state services, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Washington lawmakers have passed a nearly $44 billion, two-year budget, averting an imminent government shutdown.

The bipartisan vote Friday afternoon followed months of partisan gridlock.

In the waning hours of the fiscal year, the legislature delivered to the governor a budget that keeps the lights on. But supporters said it does much more than that.

Senate budget committee chair, Republican John Braun, said the budget makes historic investments in public schools to comply with a Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s done in a way that’s student-centered, that’s teacher friendly that’s taxpayer fair and that I think is really accountable to the public,” he said.

Democrat Timm Ormsby, who chairs the House budget committee, said it’s not just schools that benefit.

“This budget takes care of seniors and veterans. It takes care of school kids in Yakima and freshman at the Bellingham Community College. It takes care of homeless kids in Tacoma and the troopers that keep our roads safe,” he said.

But not everyone supports the plan. The state’s teachers’ union said the budget still falls short when it comes to teacher pay and class size.

Republican Liz Pike said the budget puts the state on a path to spend 27-percent more over the next four years.

“I think about all the people in my district, all the working families, none of them are going to see a 27-percent increase in their salaries over the next four years,” Pike said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Democrat Jamie Pedersen called it a “ticking time bomb” because it relies on a new state property tax levy that will be subject to a 1 percent cap after 2021.

“I regret profoundly that I cannot support this solution because of that time bomb,” Pedersen said. “I don’t believe that this is sustainable.”

Pedersen said with a 1 percent cap, the property tax won’t keep up with inflation and population growth. He predicted the state will be right back where it finds itself today—underfunding schools.

Washington voters enacted the 1 percent cap by initiative in 2001. It was overturned by the courts in 2007 and then re-instated by the legislature.

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."