House Democrats roll out $38.8 billion budget proposal, new taxes

By | March 27, 2015 | Comments

House Democrats on Friday released a $38.8 billion budget proposal that includes $1.4 billion in new taxes, including a new capital gains tax and changes to the business and occupation tax.

Money raised from the new taxes would fund education, including operating costs, all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes through the 3rd grade and college readiness programs.

“Without investment, you can’t have a return on investment. That’s what this budget is,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan at the budget rollout on Friday.

The budget spends an additional $588 million in cost-of-living pay raises and health benefits for teachers. While allocating $412 million to reduce class sizes for kindergarten through 3rd grade, it does not fully fund Initiative 1351, the class size reduction measure passed by voters last year.

Lead budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter said he believes the budget meets the mandate to fully fund basic education in the McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court. “I think the court will be fine with this,” he said.

The budget would freeze tuition at the state’s colleges and universities for the next two years, and also provide $8 million dollars for a new Washington State University medical school that was given the green light to open by the Legislature this week.

The budget also funds more mental health beds in community facilities and state hospitals, as well as $5.1 million for “Joel’s Law.” The bill is named after Joel Reuter, who was shot by Seattle police after having a mental health breakdown. It allows families to appeal to a court if mental health professionals decide not to involuntarily commit someone who is mentally ill.

“We want to make sure people can get the help they need at the time they are having a crisis,” Hunter told reporters.

Among the largest sources of  new revenue is a capital gains tax, which would raise about $570 million for the two-year budget.

Individuals who earn more than $25,000 in profits on the sales of stocks and bonds, or married joint filers earning more than $50,000 in profits, would pay a 5 percent capital gains tax under the proposal. It would not apply to retirement accounts.

Budget leaders estimate about 32,000 Washington residents would begin paying the capital gains tax starting in 2016. “This is for the super wealthy,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.

Critics say the capital gains tax is too volatile to use as a reliable source of revenue, which Democrats acknowledge. “We’re not pretending anything other than that,” said Carlyle.

To protect against fluctuations, Carlyle said the budget only counts on $400 million a year from the capital gains tax to go toward paying for basic education requirements. Any additional money raised above that threshold would go into a higher education fund.

Another $532 million in new revenue would come from changes to the business and occupation tax. It would increase the B&O tax by 0.3 percentage points for certain businesses, while also reducing or eliminating the tax for about 15,000 small businesses.

Online retailers that do not have a physical presence in Washington — such as eBay or Etsy — would be required to start collecting tax from online transactions. Currently, only companies with an presence in Washington, like Amazon, collect tax from online sales.

Democrats also propose eliminating several tax breaks. Out-of-state residents would no longer be exempted from paying sales tax when they shop in Washington, and sales tax would be added to the cost of bottled water. It also eliminates a tax break for oil refiners and other industries, including travel agents.

Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill criticized the budget for imposing new taxes when the state has $3 billion in new revenue coming into the state. “When you don’t use that to pay for education and instead you use taxes – quite frankly, I don’t know if that’s unconstitutional or just unconscionable,” he said.

Hill said the Republican budget proposal will not use taxes to “pay for what is our constitutional duty.” However, he said both budgets emphasize mental health spending, higher education and early education.

The Democratic budget does not include the carbon pollution charge or higher cigarette taxes proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in his budget. Carlyle told reporters that legislators felt they needed more time to look at the “long-term financial implications” of the carbon pollution charge and its impact on funding education.

Inslee’s budget does include a capital gains tax of 7 percent. Democrats say they chose to go with the lower 5 percent figure, which would put Washington among the bottom four of the 41 states that impose the tax.

In a statement, Inslee said it was “disappointing” that House Democrats decided not to pursue the carbon pollution charge. However, the governor supports the capital gains tax, which he said is “a small step toward fixing the most unfair state tax system in the nation.”

The House Appropriations Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the budget on Monday at 1:30 p.m. TVW will carry the hearing live at this link. Legislators are expected to vote on the budget in committee the following day.

The date of the public hearing was rescheduled from Friday to Monday after a letter was submitted to House Speaker Frank Chopp by House Republicans who said they were “troubled” that the public would not have enough time to review the document.

The full budget document is available at this link.

Senate Republicans are expected to release their budget proposal next week.

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Thursday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 27, 2015 | Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Thursday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” We cover two different proposals to lower college tuition — one that relies on new revenue, and one that does not. Plus, highlights from a committee hearing on the Senate’s gas tax proposal and a move to allow judges to remove their home address from certain public documents.

“Legislative Review” airs at 6:30 and 11 p.m. nightly.

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Dozens testify on Senate transportation plan

By | March 27, 2015 | Comments

More than 90 people signed up to testify before a state House committee Thursday on a plan approved by the Senate to raise the state’s gas tax to fund transportation.

Aurora Ave N SB congestionUnder the 16-year, $15 billion plan, a nearly 12-cent gas tax hike would help fund megaprojects – including the North-South freeway in Spokane and State Route 520 Bridge – throughout the state. The package also puts money toward 58 regional projects, including transit, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

If lawmakers approve the package, it would be the first major transportation funding measure passed in a decade. “We have bridges collapsing, roads are crowded,” Lake Stevens Sen. Steve Hobbs said. “This is the time to pass a transportation package because we need it.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who used to chair the House transportation committee, pointed to a recent traffic jam in his request for more funding for Highway 99. A semi-truck carrying salmon overturned Tuesday evening, blocking traffic on the highway for nearly nine hours. “If one accident happens, like with the salmon truck, the entire region clogs up,” he said.

The gas tax hike would happen in three phases. First, a 5-cent increase in July, then 4.2 cents in 2016 and 2.5 cents in 2017.  Washington has the seventh highest gas tax in the nation. People in the state already pay 55.9 cents per gallon in taxes – 37.5 cents to the state, plus 18.4 cents federal tax.

Washington Treasurer James McIntire told committee members the gas tax was overused and the plan borrows too much. He called for more tolling, especially on I-90, to fund transportation projects.

The transportation package comes with several conditions, including one that would take money away from transit and bike paths and instead put it toward roads if the state adopts a low carbon fuel standard.

Some House Democrats call the provision a “poison pill” and say it could keep the package from passing through the chamber. Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a study of low carbon fuel standards as part of a carbon reduction proposal.

Charles Knutson from the governor’s office asked members to drop those conditions attached to the transportation proposal. “The governor would like to see a clean bill come of this committee,” he said. “The cleaner the bill, the easier it will be to reach a final agreement.”

House Bill 5987 passed 27 to 22 in the Senate. The package has not been scheduled for a vote in the House Transportation committee.

Thurston County judge in acid attack testifies for disclosure exemption

By | March 26, 2015 | Comments

Thurston County Judge Brett Buckley told lawmakers Thursday what can happen when the wrong person gets your home address.

In 2012, he was at home when someone knocked at the door and threw sulfuric acid in his face. The acid sent Buckley to Harborview Medical Center, injured his dogs, and ate through the concrete in front of his home

The man accused of attacking Buckley, Michael E. Martin, faces assault charges and awaits trial. Martin had previously come before Buckley in court.

To protect his family, Buckley decided to move from his home of 27 years, and no longer receives mail at his new home.

“I have taken every step I can take. I’ve had my children tell me that they no longer felt safe coming home,” Buckley told lawmakers on Thursday. “I do believe that my safety would be significantly degraded if I had to disclose my address.”

He testified before the Senate Government Operations and Security Committee in favor of House Bill 1397, which makes changes and updates to the public financial disclosure laws for elected and appointed officials.

Elected and appointed officials and their immediate families must disclose their financial affairs, including property and investments, annually to the Public Disclosure Commission, according to state law.

Updates include raising the dollar thresholds for reporting assets. The changes include allowing prosecuting attorneys, judges and sheriffs and their families to list their city and county instead of a home address.

Public Disclosure Commission executive director Andrea McNamara Doyle said that the most common request for exempting information is from prosecuting attorneys, judges and sheriffs and their families who want to shield their home addresses out of concern for safety. The PDC requested the bill.

Committee chair Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, asked whether it was reasonable for elected officials to expect privacy.

“You can Google anybody’s name,” Roach said. “You can go to county property tax records and get names, and so forth. It’s almost a moot point here. You can find anybody anytime.”

However, she pointed out that law enforcement officials are not the only ones who face threats. Roach said someone issued a death threat to a lawmaker last week, and the Newhouse building, where Senators have offices, have been on lockdown several times this session.

“It happens to legislators, too,” she said. (more…)

Categories: Privacy

Toddlers race around Capitol for early learning investments

By | March 26, 2015 | Comments


Dozens of preschool students raced through the Capitol Thursday as part of a push to ask lawmakers to invest more in early learning.

“We’re here to remind legislators to start and finish strong for our littlest learners,” organizer Lauren Hipp said. “Early learning really set our kids up for success, not only in school, but in life in general.”

Before the toddlers took off running in their sweatbands and race bibs — all No. 1 — they listened while Gov. Jay Inslee, budget writers Sen. Andy Hill and Rep. Ross Hunter and other lawmakers talked about ways to boost spending.

“I don’t think they were that interested in what they had to say, but hopefully they’ll be interested in what the lawmakers do for these kids,” executive director of the state’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance (ECEAP) programs Joel Ryan said.

Mostly, they focused on  House Bill 1491, the so-called Early Start Act. Childcare and preschool providers who accept state subsidies for low-income families would be required to participate in the Early Achievers Program.

Right now, the program is free, but voluntary. It provides training to childcare facilities and state- and federally-funded preschool program, such as Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care.

By requiring participation, lawmakers hope to improve kindergarten readiness for low-income students. “If we get our way,” Inslee told the runners. “We’re going to have more kids who are ready for kindergarten, more kids who do well in first grade, more kids who go into STEM fields, more kids who graduate.”

The measure passed 67-31 in the state House and is under consideration in the Senate. It was voted out of a committee in the chamber Wednesday. Prime sponsor Rep. Ruth Kagi said during the event she expects a hearing in Senate Ways and Means on Friday.

Wednesday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 26, 2015 | Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Wednesday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” We cover Senate floor action, including the passage of a bill to allow WSU to open its own medical school and an attempt by Senate Democrats to change the chamber’s rule to require “fair and balanced” committee hearings. Plus, a proposal to teach middle and high school students about nuclear energy, and a bill that would raise the state’s smoking age to 21.

“Legislative Review” airs at 6:30 and 11 p.m. nightly.

Categories: TVW

WSU can open medical school, under bill headed to governor

By | March 26, 2015 | Comments

For the first time in nearly a century, Washington State University can open its own medical school.

5547979195_e113566c9a_zThe state Senate today approved a bill to remove a 1917 rule that gave University of Washington exclusive rights to train Washington’s doctors. House Bill 1559, sponsored by Spokane Rep. Marcus Riccelli, passed 47-1 and now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.

It’s one of the ways the state is trying to solve a critical doctor shortage, especially in Eastern Washington, where people in some rural communities must commute for hours to see a primary care doctor.

UW operates a five-state program to train doctors in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. It’s called WWAMI, an acronym for the first letter of each state. Right now, the program has enough funding to admit 140 medical students to study within the state each year

To serve people statewide, lawmakers predict they’ll need more than 1,700 new primary care doctors before 2030. “We’re facing a drought. And I’m not talking about a lack of rain,” Spokane Sen. Andy Billig said on Wednesday. “I’m talking about the lack of healthcare providers, and particularly primary care doctors. This bill will help solve that problem.”

Sen. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, was the sole lawmaker in the chamber to vote against the bill. He previously said the state has limited resources and should focus on expanding its existing medical program instead of creating a new one.

The bill doesn’t provide funding for WSU’s medical school. It only removes UW’s monopoly on medical, forestry products and logging engineering majors.

Both universities are seeking funding for their respective programs.

Categories: Healthcare
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Nuclear energy education program proposed for students in grades 8-12

By | March 25, 2015 | Comments

A Republican legislator is backing a plan that would teach middle and high school students about nuclear power, with the goal of funneling more young people into high-paying nuclear energy jobs.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, told the House Technology Committee on Wednesday the nuclear industry is struggling to fill jobs that pay an average salary of $85,000 a year.

“We really need to educate kids that this is a different type of nuclear. It’s not your father’s nuclear anymore. It’s next generation and it’s a lot more safe,” Brown said.

But critics of the measure say schools shouldn’t single out a source of energy above others without also discussing potential negative health impacts.

Columbia Generating Station

Columbia Generating Station

Senate Bill 5093 creates a nuclear energy education program for students in 8th through 12th grade, administered by the Washington State University Energy Program. It would partner with the American Nuclear Society, which provides classroom materials and training for teachers.

Representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility oppose the bill, citing health concerns.

“I think there are many young people who are very concerned about having a sustainable energy future that is not toxic to themselves and their children,” said Mary Hanson, who represents the Washington chapter of the group.

Chuck Johnson, speaking on behalf of the Oregon chapter, said he was concerned about the role of the American Nuclear Society in shaping the educational material. “Having them as a gatekeeper is very problematic,” he said.

If the bill passes, Johnson suggested adding a public health educator who could discuss health concerns associated with nuclear power.

Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant, supports the effort and says some of its 1,000 employees could play a role as “nuclear ambassadors” to the program.

Jim Gaston of Energy Northwest said the company could help “bring knowledge to the kids and understanding of the well paying jobs in nuclear technology.”

Categories: Energy

Agencies seek flexibility for drought response

By | March 25, 2015 | Comments
Areas of Washington affected by a 2015 drought emergency declaration. (Department of Ecology)

Areas of Washington affected by a 2015 drought emergency declaration. (Department of Ecology)

Local and state agencies told a Senate committee on Tuesday that they want flexibility in responding to — and anticipating — drought conditions, which will affect several regions in Washington this year.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Olympic Peninsula, east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and Walla Walla region after a mild winter that caused low snowpack. The melting snow helps fill the state’s water sources such as ground water and rivers in the spring and summer.

According to the governor’s office, snowpack is 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains, 67 percent of normal in the Walla Walla region and ranges from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascades.

While most other areas of the state won’t be hit as hard by drought conditions, the lack of water could affect the agriculture-dependent regions of Yakima, Wenatchee and Walla Walla.

The Department of Ecology also requested $9 million in drought relief, which would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water-right transfers.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Water and Rural Economic Development heard an update on Tuesday from the Department of Ecology and others on the upcoming water shortage.

Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the the city would like to expand the uses of reclaimed water — which is treated sewage water — but is barred by regulations. Ritchie says possibilities for using the reclaimed water include irrigation and using it for toilet water in new construction.

“The laws and rules on what we can do with our reclaimed water are partly based on the fact that before it was purified as well as it is, it was called effluent, and most people really don’t want the effluent anywhere,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said a drought may be a good time to revisit water regulations.

The committee also heard testimony on HB 1836, which would expand the ability of the Department of Ecology and the Legislative Drought Committee to react to expected drought conditions, before the governor formally declares it.

Jennifer Holderman of the Department of Ecology said that the bill would give the department more capacity to plan ahead, including the ability to negotiate and secure access to water supplies before drought conditions, when those prices are highest.

Evan Sheffels of the Washington Farm Bureau agreed. “It would add some flexibility in the drought preparations that the department gets engaged in,” he said.

You can watch the update in the TVW archives.


Senate Democrats ‘fair and balanced’ rule proposal fails on floor

By | March 25, 2015 | Comments

Senate Democrats’ proposal to introduce a rule for “fair and balanced” committee hearings failed on the floor along party lines Wednesday, 23-25 with one absence.

Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, introduced the proposal on the floor.

In a statement to reporters last week, she said Democrats are concerned that speakers on both sides on an issue have been unable to testify at committee hearings, particularly in the Commerce and Labor committee, headed by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

However, Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, told The Capitol Record that he believes the rule is unnecessary, and made similar comments on the floor on Wednesday.

Senate Republicans all voted against the measure. The one absent vote was Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who caucuses with the Republicans in the Majority Coalition Caucus.

The rule would have been similar to a House of Representatives rule that lawmakers say has been in place for several years.

Under Rule 24, second D, 11, the House rules state, “Insofar as practicable, testimony in public hearings should be balanced between those in support of and in opposition to proposed legislation, with consideration given to providing an opportunity for members of the public to testify within available time.”

The parties continued the debate over Twitter: