The Senate budget-writing committee on Thursday held a public hearing on the latest GOP budget plan, which includes $126 million in new revenue from closing certain tax breaks.
Senate Republicans also introduced a one-month budget proposal intended to avoid a government shutdown if a budget is not in place by June 30. Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said it is “strictly an emergency” budget that “keeps the lights on and parks open for one month.”
Much of the focus of the hearing was on the updated two-year, $38.2 billion operating budget proposal. Senate Bill 6052 increases spending from the previous Senate budget proposal by $367 million — largely to provide a 3.8 percent raise to K-12 school employees.
Hill said the budget also moves closer to the House position by increasing spending in early learning and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants.
“The debate over taxes is over,” Hill said. “The debate over funding education is over and the debate over the social safety net is over.”
The last remaining sticking point between the two budgets is college tuition, Hill said. The Senate is proposing a 25 percent tuition cut at the state’s colleges and universities, while House Democrats are proposing a tuition freeze.
The Senate plan would raise about a third of that by closing two tax breaks, including an exemption for software manufacturers and a preferential tax rate for royalty income. Senate Bill 6138 also makes changes to certain tax collections.
“We believe these are solid economic policy and will have a positive effect on the overall budget,” Hill said.
The committee adjourned without voting on the proposals. The House and Senate are meeting again Friday, the 29th day of the second special session.
Legislators in both chambers honored late Washington State University president Elson Floyd with a resolution on Thursday, highlighting how the charismatic leader lobbied the Legislature for a new public medical school even as his own health was in decline.
Floyd died Saturday at 59 from complications from colon cancer, two weeks after taking medical leave.
“He was the definitive champion for moving WSU forward and a tireless advocate for creating a WSU medical school,” said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.
The resolution adopted by lawmakers lists several of Floyd’s accomplishments at the university, including the establishment of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center and the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.
Research funding increased by an “astounding” 57 percent under Floyd’s tenure, while enrollment reached “record highs” — including a spike in the number of students from diverse backgrounds, according to the resolution.
“To know Elson was to like him, to respect him, to admire him. It’s so tough that such a gift was taken so soon,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy says she believes the “hullabaloo” over legislators accepting free tickets to the U.S. Open has dissuaded some lawmakers from attending the golf championship, but she hopes the dozen lawmakers who did accept the offer will go back to Olympia to educate their caucuses.
“The twelve that accepted are bipartisan and from the House and Senate. They can be the proselytizers of how great an event it is,” McCarthy said.
Pierce County invited 45 legislators to watch the competition and attend a three-hour briefing on the tournament’s economic impact. The briefing was designed to meet a Legislative Ethics Board rule allowing legislators to accept the free ticket if official business was involved, but the county drew strong criticism for closing the briefing to the press.
McCarthy said legislators need to take in the entire experience.
“You can’t just do a PowerPoint presentation. You have to see it. The magnitude of it is so huge and so important for the state of Washington,” she told TVW’s Anita Kissee of “The Impact” during an interview this week.
McCarthy said the tournament will bring $8 million “into the state coffers that wouldn’t be there” without the U.S. Open.
“The Impact” this week looks at the state investments that helped to make Chambers Bay appealing to the U.S. Golf Association and goes in-depth on the statewide economic impact of the event.
The show will air Wednesday, June 17 at 7 & 10 p.m. It includes an extended interview with McCarthy and others.
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.
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 Washington State Legislature began its 30-day special session at noon on Wednesday, four days after lawmakers adjourned the regular legislative session without passing an operating budget.
The Democrat-controlled House and the Republican majority Senate remain at odds over whether the state needs new revenue as part of the operating budget that funds the state for the next two years and puts additional money into public schools.
Lawmakers are also expected to take up a transportation package and legislation related to school levy reform during the special session.
On Wednesday, the House began special session by passing several bills off the floor. Among them is House Bill 2136, which makes several changes to the state’s legal marijuana market and streamlines taxes.
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the bill “updates and modernizes and reforms” a number of provisions in Initiative 502, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana.
City or county bans on pot stores would be subject to a public vote during the general election under the bill.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, urged members to reject the proposal. “There are communities that voted no this when the initiative was before them, and they are still voting no today,” he said. “They do not want this to be part of our society.”
The bill passed 70 to 25. Carlyle said negotiations with the Senate are ongoing.
The Washington State Legislature gaveled out of the 2015 regular session Friday – two days earlier than the 105-day regular session was scheduled to end, but still weeks or more away from a budget deal.
Late in the session, lawmakers said they’d need more time to reach an agreement on how to fund the state for the next two years. The Democrat-led House and GOP-controlled Senate are still far apart on the basics.
House leaders say more revenue is needed to fully fund education and more as the state faces Supreme Court sanctions after an unprecedented court ruling. But the Senate is sticking with a no-new taxes proposal.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a 30-day special session beginning April 29. The two chambers will have to make some concessions to find an agreement, he said.
“It is time to compromise and for all of us to compromise,” he said during a press conference earlier in the week. “I understand I won’t be getting everything I proposed, and I have told lawmakers they each need to now starting moving towards each other’s position. The House is going to have to find a way to reduce spending and the Senate will have to add revenue.”
Both sides will also have to compromise on a $15 billion transportation plan. The House and Senate agree state projects should be funded with a nearly 12-cent gas tax increase, but they’re stuck on the details.
The special session can adjourn before the full 30 days if they reach a deal. If not, Inslee can announce another special session to give lawmakers more time.
A bill that would have banned aversion therapy for minors — including electric shock and ice baths — was stopped from moving forward on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, tried to bring Senate Bill 5870 to the Senate floor for a vote in a procedural move, but Senators declined to continue considering the bill, 22-27.
Opponents of aversion therapy say it has been used often to try to convert gay teenagers to straight.
“I am appalled that the Republican majority killed legislation to protect kids from electric shock, ice baths, and other physical and emotional abuse, simply because they’re gay. We need to end conversion therapy once and for all,” Liias said in a prepared statement.
The bill originally passed the Senate unanimously in March, after references calling out sexual orientation change efforts were removed from the bill language. Then the House added talk conversion therapy into the ban.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, urged members to vote against Liias’ procedural move to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
“I believe this bill is significantly different than when it left this body and is still what we call a work-in-progress,” he said.
Watch highlights from Wednesday’s floor debate in the House and Senate on this 15-minute edition of “Legislative Review.” Plus, the public weighs in on the proposed $3.9 billion capital budget, which pays for construction projects around the state.
“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m.
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.