The state is on track to collect about $400 million more in revenue in the current and upcoming budget cycles, giving legislative budget writers a boost as they attempt to negotiate a deal in the remaining 10 days of special session.
The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council expects the state to collect $327 million more in the 2015-17 cycle than previously projected. It also projects an additional $79 million more in the current 2013-17 budget cycle.
Construction, real estate and marijuana taxes are among the biggest drivers of the revenue increase, according to state economist Steve Lerch. He said the state is also enjoying a strong labor market.
“People continue to move to Washington. This is a desirable place to be,” Lerch said. “So we have seen more labor force growth than the U.S. That is helping to drive our economy at slightly stronger rates than what we’re seeing nationally.”
Economists are forecasting $1.1 billion in marijuana excise taxes and license fees through 2019, partially due to the passage of a Senate bill this year that overhauls the state’s medical marijuana system.
The House’s lead budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter, raised concerns Monday about the “river of money” economists expect to flow from the state’s legal marijuana stores.
“If we write budgets assuming that and it doesn’t come true, I’m concerned what actions we have to take,” Hunter said.
Budget writers say they are continuing to talk as the state approaches the final stretch of the 30-day special session, which ends on May 28. If they don’t complete the budget by the deadline, lawmakers must go into another special session.
Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said the latest forecast makes their job easier than it was at the start of session in January.
“At some point you have to say, ‘Holy Cow, we have a lot of money.’ We should be able to get this job done very quickly. We are well beyond what you would think you would need to get out of town,” Hill said.
The forecast was scheduled to be released in June, but was moved up to May to help lawmakers as they continue budget negotiations.
Here’s what TVW is covering live this week (we’ll update this as more events are added):
Monday, May 18 at 2:30 p.m.: The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council is releasing the latest revenue forecast a month early at the request of legislators who are still negotiating a two-year operating budget deal. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.
Tuesday, May 19 at 11 a.m.: TVW will be live with a press conference with Gov. Jay Inslee as he discusses the current special session. Watch live at this link.
Tuesday, May 19 at 1:30 p.m.: The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is hearing a bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon that would ban teachers from collecting pay or benefits during a strike or work stoppage. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.
Wednesday, May 20 at 10 a.m.: The House Committee on State Government is hearing a bill that requires out-of-state political committees and non-profit organizations to report political contributions to the state Public Disclosure Commission. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.
Thursday, May 21 at 8 a.m.: The Senate Energy committee is holding a work session on “carbon reduction investments.” TVW will carry it live.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday due to “unprecedented” low snowpack in the mountains, where he said glacier lily flowers are blooming in areas where there should be more than 6 feet of snow.
“It’s really unlike anything we’ve experienced. Rain has been normal. What we’ve lacked is snow,” said the governor, who termed it a “snowpack drought.”
Of the 98 snow sites in Washington measured in May by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, 66 sites have little to no snow — with 11 sites “snow-free for the first time ever,” Inslee said.
The lack of snowpack is resulting in historic river lows, and irrigation districts are being forced to tap reservoirs earlier than normal.
Farmers are expected to bear the brunt of the drought. The Dept of Agriculture is projecting $1.2 billion in crop losses due to the drought this year, according to Inslee. To extend water supplies, irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin are turning off water for weeks at a time.
“We are already seeing severe impacts in several areas of the state and conditions are expected to worsen over time,” Inslee said. “Difficult decisions are being made today about what crops gets priority in our vital agricultural region.”
When deciding which crops will get emergency water assistance from the state Dept. of Ecology, agency director Maia Bellon said the department takes into consideration the value of the crop and expense of replanting.
Allowing an annual crop to fallow is less expensive, she said, when compared to perennial crops like pears, cherries and hops. “It is much more expensive to replant a pear orchard,” Bellon said.
Puget Sound residents are unlikely to be impacted by the drought, although officials say they should be mindful of water use. Large municipal water districts in cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have adequate water storage and don’t anticipate shortages, Inslee said.
“Use what you need, no more, don’t waste,” said Ginny Stern of the Dept. of Health.
Family members of the mentally ill will be allowed to petition the courts for help getting a relative involuntarily committed, following the signing of “Joel’s Law” by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday.
The bill is named for Joel Reuter, who was having a mental health breakdown when he was killed in 2013 in a shootout with Seattle police.
Joel Reuter’s parents, Doug and Nancy, speak to the media.
His father, Doug Reuter, told reporters his son was struggling with an “evil, evil” mental illness, but it was manageable with medication that would have allowed him to go back to work at his job as a software engineer.
Doug and his wife, Nancy, attempted to get their son mental health help dozens of times.
If the bill had been in effect, they say they could have gotten Joel involuntarily committed several months before he was shot. Joel would have turned 30 this month, his parents said.
“For the first time in four decades, families have standing in superior court to get their loved ones the help they need,” Doug Reuter said following the bill signing.
Inslee signed the bill using a glass pen blown by Joel’s father. His parents said they found it in Joel’s apartment in a box labeled “Keep Forever.”
Thursday at 9:30 a.m.: Democratic leaders including Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson are holding a press conference to update reporters on the session. TVW taped the event and it will be posted online here later in the day.
Thursday at 10:45 a.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee is signing several bills, including one that aims to improve oil train safety in Washington. Following the bill signing, the governor will briefly answer questions. Maia Bellon from the Dept. of Ecology, Dave Danner from Utilities and Transportation Commission, Robert Ezelle from the state Military Department, and Rob Duff, the governor’s policy adviser on natural resources, will also hold a Q&A about the oil transportation bill and new federal oil train regulations. TVW cannot live webcast the event, however we are taping it and it will be posted online here later in the day.
Thursday at noon: Sen. Barbara Bailey and Sen. Steve O’Ban will have an “announcement regarding Auditor Troy Kelley’s leave of absence,” according to a press release. TVW will be live on television and the web.
Thursday at noon: The Economic Revenue and Forecast Council is holding a meeting to discuss the timing of next revenue forecast. TVW is live on the web only here.
Two state representatives filed a resolution Tuesday to begin the process of impeaching State Auditor Troy Kelley for “malfeasance of office,” which they say includes the abandonment of his office and illegally delegating authority to an unelected official.
Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, introduced the resolution at a press conference Tuesday that calls for the indicted auditor to resign. If Kelley refuses, the resolution creates a committee of six members of the House to begin drafting articles of impeachment.
“All of this lies squarely on the shoulders of Troy Kelley,” MacEwen said. “It rests squarely with him and the resolution rests with him.”
However, the resolution looks unlikely to advance to a vote on the House floor while negotiations on the budget are ongoing.
House Speaker Frank Chopp said in a statement released just before Tuesday’s press conference that “now is not the time” for impeachment proceedings, adding that House Republican Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen agrees.
Chopp said impeachment proceedings would be a “major distraction from the more pressing and time-sensitive challenges” facing the Legislature as it negotiates a two-year operating budget.
Stokesbary said he remains optimistic there will be time during the special session to vote on the resolution. “I think it is possible to handle multiple things at once,” he said.
Kelley is taking an undefined leave of absence from his position as auditor while facing federal charges of tax evasion, stealing money and lying under oath. He has delegated authority to Jan Jutte, the office’s director of operations.
It takes 50 votes for the House to impeach. The Senate would then hold a trial, which requires two-thirds of the chamber’s members to vote for a conviction and remove Kelley from office.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said at a media availability on Tuesday the resolution is a step to explore “whether you really have a case.”
“If the majority in the House is willing to look into it, I think a resolution to study it is better than taking the next step,” Schoesler said.
The Republican media availability is posted online at TVW here. Members also answered questions about budget negotiations, saying they are continuing to go through the House and Senate budgets line-by-line to identify differences.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said they expect to spend another day going through the budgets, then he believes the next step is up to the House. “Are they willing to pass a tax package they’ll vote for and then allow us to frame a box that we can sit down and negotiate with?” he said.
The House has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday on a proposed capital gains tax, and a hearing Thursday on a cap-and-trade plan that would raise $500 million.
Here’s what TVW is airing live on Tuesday, May 12:
Tuesday at 9 a.m.: The Senate Natural Resources committee is holding a work session on naming parks, elk hoof disease and fish passage barrier removal. TVW is live on television and the web.
Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.: Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, and Sen. John Braun will hold a press conference to give the Republican perspective on the ongoing special session. Although TVW cannot go live from the location, we will tape it and post it online here as soon as possible.
Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.: The Senate Law and Justice committee is holding a public hearing on a measure dealing with drunk driving, as well as a bill that would allow for someone to represent a victim in court if he or she has no family. The proposal cites the murder of Arlene Roberts, who was strangled in her home in 1978 at the age of 80. She had no surviving family to speak on her behalf during the sentencing, so a detective asked the court for the maximum sentence. The state Supreme Court later ruled in an appeal that an officer cannot undermine a plea agreement between the state and defendant. TVW is live on television and the web with the hearing.
Tuesday at 3 p.m.: Representatives Drew MacEwen and Drew Stokesbary will hold a press conference to introduce a resolution to establish a committee that would draft articles of impeachment against Troy Kelley. The state auditor is facing federal charges of tax evasion, and has taken an unspecified leave of absence. TVW will live webcast the press conference at this link.
Mary Dye, a wheat farmer from Pomeroy and state committeewoman for the Garfield County GOP, was sworn in on Friday to replace the 9th District’s Rep. Susan Fagan, who resigned her seat following ethical violation allegations.
Mary Dye is sworn in Friday (picture from WA House GOP)
Washington State Republican Chairwoman Susan Hutchison said the party “acted quickly” to replace Fagan in one week, allowing Dye to participate in the special session.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Dye will represent the “interests and values” of the 9th District, a large rural district that encompasses the counties of Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield and Whitman, as well as part of Spokane County.
County Commissioners from the six counties selected Dye from a field of three candidates to fill the position.
“Her knowledge and experience in agriculture and her family’s deep roots in Garfield County make her a natural leader on issues important to the 9th District,” Schoesler said in a statement.
Budget writers met this week for two days of budget “briefings,” but have yet to resolve more than 1,000 differences between the budgets passed by the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican majority Senate, according to Democratic legislative leaders.
“Going through each section of the budget, going through where the differences are, where the decisions have to be made — that’s what is happening right now,” House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.
The Legislature began a 30-day special session on April 29 after adjourning regular session without a two-year operating budget in place.
House Speaker Frank Chopp said there remains “major differences” between the two budgets, highlighting a difference of $450 million more in the Democratic budget for K-12 basic education than the Republican approach.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Democrats don’t have the money for the $450 million expenditure. “They can spend it, but they can’t pay for it,” he said at a Republican media availability.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle are pushing to get an early revenue forecast update to see if the state will collect more revenue.
Waiting for June 17, when the revenue forecast is scheduled to be released, is “just too late,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. (more…)
Latvia’s ambassador to the United States made his first-ever official visit to Washington state’s Capitol late last month with a message for state leaders: Latvia is an independent country, free from Russia’s grip and eager to trade.
Latvian Ambassador Andris Razans and President Barack Obama.
“Europe is not only five countries,” Ambassador Andris Razans told TVW during his visit to Olympia. “There are other countries in Europe – smaller, but with great potential, great opportunities.”
Part of the former Soviet Union, Latvia was under Russian occupation from 1940 to 1991. In the more than 20 years since, the small country of barely more than 2 million people has grown into its independence, now serving in the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the leadership role that rotates among 28 member countries.
Now, for the first time, the Baltic state is reaching out to Washington state as part of a larger effort to encourage trade with other nations. “Our problem is we have been hidden behind that double Berlin wall from during Cold War times – a small wall in Berlin, a huge Soviet border in our case,” he said. “That’s past, that’s history, I think now it’s really important to engage.”
Razans was in Olympia to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a controversial proposal that would create the world’s largest free-trade zone between the EU and United States.
The deal would merge regulatory standards, allowing the two economic superpowers to trade freely and in higher volumes, covering nearly half of the world’s gross domestic product. Razans said it’s a win for both sides. “It will determine development in the next decade, not only on our side of the Atlantic, but here as well,” he said.
But the proposal has faced opposition on both continents. Critics worry the proposal would undermine democracy, allowing big business to take legal action against laws that threaten free-trade or lead to smaller profits – laws like minimum wage.
Washington state has a role in the economic relationship between the two continents, Razans said. “Washington definitely is among that states that do trade with Europe in very big volumes, with great companies and products every European kid knows,” he said.
That’s part of what Razans told Washington’s Lt. Gov. Brad Owen during his visit to the state, which included a tour of the Boeing Co. and meeting with University of Washington students.
He said it’s part of a new effort for Latvia. “We come from 50 years of situations where nobody really tried to develop our exports,” he said. “I’m trying now to understand as Ambassador where we have these intersections.”
One of the products Razans hopes Latvia and Washington will intersect: wine. “We are not the greatest nation on Earth at producing wine,” he said. “Latvian wine is undrinkable, I think. It’s just for fun and personal pleasure. Washington is a great wine-producing state.”
Latvia can offer music in return. “Latvia definitely punches high, high, high above our weight in music,” he said. “Among the top ten opera stars these days, top four or five are Latvians. Out of 2 million people, is not that bad.”
Washington leaders have not voiced concerns about the international trade agreement, Razans said, but supporters in the EU face one powerful opponent: Russia.
Latvia’s neighbor that occupied the country for more than half a century has been “financing and working against this deal,” Razans said. He said Russia is behind campaigns and non-governmental organizations that aim to “make sure there is no agreement between Europe and the United States.”
Russia’s threat to Latvia
Russian military activity is increasing in the Baltic region, and after the country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, some say that could have troublesome implications for Latvia. The country is made up of 26 percent ethnic Russians – more than Ukraine.
But Razans said the threat is exaggerated. “We don’t have a direct military threat,” he said. “When I read that we might be the next target, I think it’s stupidity at a high level, it would be the same thing to say one country has quite many Muslim population, it doesn’t mean that all will fight in Syria or Iraq in ISIS.”
Russia has impacted Latvia’s political and trade relationships in the past, but now, his country is part of the EU and things are different, Razans said. That’s what he hopes Washington leaders will come away with after his visit.
“I wish that they put a pin on European map with the name Latvia,” he said. “Latvia might look small on a map, but if you take into account that we are part of the EU internal market, it’s not that small at all.”
Latvia will serve in the six-month rotating EU presidency until July, when Luxembourg will take over.
Watch an edited portion of TVW’s interview with Razans below:
The Capitol Record is TVW's blog about state government. TVW is a non-profit network modeled after C-SPAN, airing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the state Legislature as well as independently produced shows. For comments or questions, e-mail Christina Salerno.