SAN FRANCISCO — Washington lawmakers adjourned in the wee hours yesterday after adopting a $31.4 billion two-year general fund budget without any legislation to ask voters for either a tax increase or additional bond authorization.
Legislators also approved a bill authorizing the imposition of tolls on one of two Lake Washington bridges in the Seattle area in order to back bonds that would finance the reconstruction of the bridge.
Debate during the session was dominated by the massive hole the recession opened up in the state budget.
“This was the toughest legislative session in nearly 30 years, and maybe the toughest since the Great Depression,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference yesterday summing up the session.
Members of the Democratic majorities in each chamber of the Legislature described the state’s spending plan as an austerity budget, stripping $4 billion in spending that would have been required if existing programs continued unchanged.
Lawmakers didn’t adjourn until about 1 a.m. yesterday, leaving unaddressed a handful of bills to implement small pieces of the budget.
Gregoire, a Democrat, said she’d like to call lawmakers back into a one- or two-day session to finish work on those bills if the leadership can come to some agreement on the bills ahead of time.
“This is not an opportunity to spend 30 days and have another legislative session,” she said.
Despite much debate, lawmakers did not adopt legislation that would have asked voters for either a tax hike to finance programs facing cuts, or a multibillion-dollar proposal to waive the state debt limit for general obligation bonds to finance school improvements.
State Treasurer Jim McIntire, also a Democrat, had warned against such a bond measure, saying it would threaten the state’s double-A to double-A-plus bond ratings.
“From our office’s perspective, it’s a good thing” the bill didn’t pass, said McIntire spokesman Chris McGann.
Gregoire, who had publicly flirted with the bond measure idea earlier this year, said lawmakers made the right choice not to move ahead with it. She said she only favored a bond issue that had an identifiable revenue source for repayment, something she believes voters are unlikely to approve.
“I do not want to jeopardize our bond rating. When we sell our bonds now, we get some of the best rates in the country,” she said yesterday. “We’ve one of the most significant transportation project cycles coming up, and it will be financed with bonds.”
Lawmakers also approved a $3.3 billion capital budget, which includes $1.8 billion of GO authorization within the state’s debt limit, as well as a transportation budget with $4.4 billion in capital spending.
A significant portion of that spending is financed with GOs designed to be repaid through a pledge of motor vehicle fuel-tax collections.
To extract more money from that source in the near term, the transportation budget bill authorizes 30-year terms for the bonds, up from 25.
“Extending the term of transportation bonds from 25 to 30 years also better aligns with the useful life of the assets being built,” said a summary report issued jointly by the transportation committee chairs of each house.
The transportation bill also authorized $1.95 billion of bonds for the State Route 520 bridge over Lake Washington, which is regarded as a significant safety risk, as well as a bottleneck.