Delay in making budget public is unacceptable, says Wilson

OLYMPIA… Sen. Lynda Wilson says majority Democrats negotiating the new 2021-23 state budget should have had a final version ready for consideration before now – and it definitely shouldn’t take until Saturday, although that timeline has been predicted by the Democrat chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate majority leader.

“The Senate and House Democrats had approved their respective budgets as of 2½ weeks ago, and unbelievably, we’re now told they are aiming for Saturday to show how the two plans have been merged,” said Wilson, Senate Republican budget leader. “Why the delay? How could it possibly take so long to agree on a budget that will grow spending by double digits, despite a pandemic? What tough decisions do they have to make, beyond how to spend all those additional billions?

“If we don’t see a budget until Saturday, with the session ending Sunday, that means 24 to 36 hours maximum to look at a spending plan which could top $60 billion. That utter lack of transparency is unacceptable – not just to us, but to the families and employers who must pay for it all.”

Wilson, R-Vancouver, said it wouldn’t be credible for Democrats to blame the budget delay on disagreements within their own ranks about new and higher taxes, such as a new state income tax, a new energy tax and a new tax on cellphone lines.

“The Senate Republican budget, which we brought out exactly one month into the session, required no additional taxes yet maintained state services at current levels while making several visionary investments. That was before the latest federal stimulus package approved by Congress and the new state revenue forecast improved state government’s financial situation by about $10 billion. The Democrats could have made the same reasonable decisions in their budgets as we did, but that would have meant putting fiscal restraint ahead of political opportunism,” she said.

“If we’re having to wait until Saturday to see a final budget because they’re having trouble finding support for their unnecessary tax proposals, there’s an easy solution: Drop the tax increases, because state government has more than enough revenue without those to produce a very robust budget. There’s no need to add to the financial burden on families and employers who are just trying to get through the pandemic.”

The final budget is due from a six-member conference committee, made up of the top three budget leaders from the Senate and House – two from the majority, one from the minority. Wilson is on the committee, but as a member of the minority party she’s effectively on the outside looking in.

“When this conference budget comes to the floor it will be a yes or no choice – meaning we can’t offer amendments – on an agreement made by four people who are free to include items that were not previously discussed or approved. There’s also no real opportunity to ask questions on behalf of our constituents, which just adds to the frustration and lack of transparency. To top it off, the 2019-21 budget also came out one day before the session ended, as a conference budget. This is not the kind of trend the taxpayers deserve.”