Today marks the 99th day of this year’s 105-day regular session, which is scheduled to end on or by Sunday, April 23. During this final week of regular session, lawmakers will be working on completing work on bills that are in dispute or necessary to implement the budget.
Because of the significant differences that the House and Senate have taken in their approaches to the budget, it is probable that the budget negations will extend beyond the end of the regular session. The Governor will likely call the legislature into special session immediately following the completion of the regular session, but budget negotiations could drag on for some time.
Key issues that the Chamber is monitoring as part of its legislative agenda include education, which is a major part of budget negotiations, as well as paid family leave and the implementation of ST3. For more information about the Chamber’s legislative advocacy, please contact Mindi Linquist, our vice president of external relations.
State Budget Negotiations
Both bodies have yet to agree on how to meet the mandate of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund education and end reliance on local levies to fund education. Because of this, they also have yet to agree on an operating or capital budget for the state. Both the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans have released their plans for education and their proposed budgets.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) put forward a $43 billion budget proposal for the biennium. In addition, they put a proposal forward to comply with the court’s education mandate. Under the MCC plan, legislators set a statewide per-student funding level; require each school district to levy the same local property-tax rate and put that revenue toward the per-student amount; and allocate state funds to cover the difference between the per-student standard and the local funding.
The House Democrats have proposed a $45 billion budget. To achieve the revenues necessary for this budget they propose a 7% capital gains tax on 1.5% of Washington taxpayers, a business and occupation tax increase of 20% on certain businesses, elimination of some tax credits, and changes to the Real Estate Excise Tax. The House proposal increases the state portion of education funding, but does not address the local levy issue.
The next economic and revenue forecasts occur in June. June 7, the economic forecast will be released, indicating the health of the Washington economy. This is followed by the revenue collection forecast on June 20th. This is widely anticipated to be a positive forecast, by several million. Because of this it is likely that the legislature will wait for these forecasts to agree on a budget, as increases in anticipated revenue will take some of the pressure off levy tax increases.
Paid Family Leave
The Chamber continues to work with leaders across government and industry toward a statewide policy on paid family leave. With lawmakers, industry, and advocates abuzz, we are continuing to ensure that members’ voices are heard on the impacts on business of any paid family leave policy. Through roundtable sessions, as well as a member-led task force on workplace equity, we heard from businesses of all sizes across a range of industries. Throughout this process, Chamber members consistently voiced their understanding of the need for people to balance their jobs and care for their families, particularly at important times in their lives. We also heard time and again from members that they would prefer a statewide policy to a patchwork of local laws.
We have been working with legislators on both sides of the aisle on these proposals, emphasizing the paid family leave principles approved by the Chamber’s Board of Trustees in January. Along with many industry partners, we are continuing to engage various stakeholders and testifying in favor of a statewide program that is fiscally self-sustaining and accounts for the needs of small businesses
In Olympia, meetings between legislators, business, and the labor/advocate community are now occurring one to two times per week. There are not yet concrete policy elements to share – discussions have focused so far on understanding each side’s priorities. Although we are unlikely to see any draft legislation in Olympia before the end of the regular session on April 23, conversations have been productive and parties involved remain optimistic.
We are encouraging Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González and her colleagues on the Council to stay focused on these statewide conversations, rather than pursuing their own policies at this time.
Sound Transit 3
In November, voters throughout the Puget Sound resoundingly declared their support for expanded mass transit options by approving Sound Transit 3, a 25-year, $54 billion mass transit plan to expand light rail and other public transit services throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
In early 2017, vehicle owners began receiving car tab bills that reflected the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) increases that are a major part of the ST3 funding plan. Owners have been vocal about these increases, and legislators have made it clear that they plan to address this issue by the end of this session so that residents will get some relief from the adjusted prices.
The Chamber appreciates efforts to address taxpayer fairness, and is working to encourage legislators to resolve the current controversy over vehicle license taxes in a way that does not impact Sound Transit’s ability to complete the voter-approved projects in ST3.