Senate committee hears latest GOP budget, emergency one-month budget

By | June 26, 2015 | Comments

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 House held a hearing on the latest Democratic budget proposal on Monday, including a plan to raise $356 million by closing several tax breaks.

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.

Watch the hearing at this link.

Categories: Budget, WA Senate

Elson Floyd honored by Legislature

By | June 25, 2015 | Comments

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.

Elson Floyd

Elson Floyd

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.

The university president had a way of bringing Republicans and Democrats together, Baumgartner said, as evidenced by the passage of a bill by the Legislature in March that allows WSU to establish its own medical school.

On Thursday, a bill was introduced in the House to name the new medical school the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine. The Senate is expected to file a companion bill.

TVW taped both the House and Senate floor resolutions — links will be posted online here.

House Democrats release latest budget plan, call for ending several tax breaks

By | June 23, 2015 | Comments

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday held a public hearing on the latest Democratic budget plan, which does not include new taxes but would raise about $356 million by closing several tax breaks.

Lead Democratic budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter said Monday the plan does not represent an agreement with Senate Republicans, but is a “move to keep our negotiations moving forward.”

Democrats are no longer calling for a capital gains or other new taxes to pay for increased spending on early learning, mental health and other programs. Hunter said the latest budget represents only “what you can actually buy and pay for” without new revenue.

It makes the minimal expenditures required to comply with K-12 education spending for McCleary, mental health lawsuits and other settlements, Hunter said. It also freezes college tuition for a year and pays for state worker raises. Read the summary here.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said in a news release the budget is a “backup plan designed to meet the very basic needs of the state and avoid a shutdown.” State government would be forced into a partial shutdown if a budget is not adopted by June 30.

Democrats are also proposing House Bill 2269 — which Sullivan called “Plan A” — to close or limit several tax breaks to raise additional money for education. Bottled water would no longer be exempt from sales tax, a preferential business-and-occupation tax rate for resellers of prescription drugs would be eliminated and a tax break for extracted fuel would be narrowed.

Revenue of about $356 million from closing the tax breaks would pay for additional teacher cost-of-living raises, more early learning spots and increased funding for the state’s colleges and universities.

Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale criticized the plan, saying it still amounts to a tax increase. “They say they want to close tax loopholes. But I think the people of Washington see though it and understand these are taxes on things they need in their daily lives,” he said.

TVW aired the public hearing — watch it here. The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan on Tuesday.

Categories: Budget, Democrats

On TVW this week: House Appropriations, Senate Transpo committees

By | June 22, 2015 | Comments

TVW is covering the following events live on television this week:

Monday, June 22 at 9:30 a.m.: The Senate Energy committee is considering Senate Bill 6132, which would allow an electric company in the state to acquire and retire an eligible coal plant.

Monday, June 22 at 3 p.m.: The House Appropriations committee is holding a public hearing on several budget-related bills. The committee will also consider a bill that would delay by four years the implementation of Initiative 1351, the class size reduction measure approved last year by voters.

Tuesday, June 23 at 1:30 p.m.: The House Appropriations committee will continue its hearing on the budget and other bills.

Wednesday, June 24 at 8:30 a.m.: The Senate Transportation committee is meeting to discuss three bills.

TVW will go live with the House and Senate floor as they take up legislation in the final week of the second special session. The session is scheduled to end on June 27.


Categories: TVW

Budget leaders discuss compromise options with capital gains tax off the table

By | June 19, 2015 | Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative budget leaders on Friday said they are getting closer to a budget deal that will avert a government shutdown.

“There is no reason — zero — why we can’t have a budget done in one week,” Inslee said.

State government would be forced into a partial shutdown if a two-year operating budget is not adopted by June 30.

Democrats are no longer calling for a capital gains tax, which Inslee said is because the state is on track to collect about $700 million more in new revenue than expected.

Inslee said he believes closing tax breaks worth between $300 to $350 million will give “both sides big policy wins and produce a responsible, sustainable budget.” The governor pointed to a tax break for extracted fuel as an example of an exemption that should be closed, although he said he doesn’t plan to dictate a list of tax breaks to lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Democrats took the capital gains tax off the table “contingent on the Senate agreeing to a package of tax loopholes that would allow us to make investments that we need to make.”

Democrats are moving to the middle by reducing spending in “critical areas,” Sullivan said, such as mental health and early learning.  “That’s what compromise is all about and we’re willing to do that,” he said.

Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said closing tax exemptions is an option. “We always said we should be looking at exemptions, some are old and not needed anymore,” he said.

Negotiations should be able to move forward quickly, he said.

“We’re looking forward to working over the weekend to close the gaps and get a final agreement,” Hill said.

TVW taped press conferences with Inslee, Democratic and Republican leaders. Find all three videos here.

Categories: Budget, Governors Office

State prepares for partial government shutdown if no budget deal is reached

By | June 18, 2015 | Comments

As the June 30 deadline approaches for legislators to strike a budget deal, more than 25,000 state workers are slated to receive temporary layoff notices and dozens of state agencies are bracing for a potential government shutdown.

Gov. Jay Inslee‘s budget and legal advisers on Thursday laid out contingency plans in case of a shutdown, even as his staff said the governor remains “optimistic” that lawmakers will reach an agreement.

Without a two-year operating budget in place, 30 state agencies would be completely shut down — including the Liquor Control Board, Services for the Blind and Washington State Parks. All camping reservations at state parks would be cancelled, days before the Fourth of July holiday.

Another 25 state agencies would be partially shutdown. The state Department of Social and Health Services, for example, would suspend about two-thirds of its services, including adoption programs, immigrant state food assistance and family support services.

Eastern and Western State Hospitals, the state’s psychiatric wards, will remain operational, as well as child protective services. Medicaid would temporarily continue for several weeks until a federally-mandated termination process begins.

The Department of Corrections will stop accepting new transfers to state prisons, instead asking county jails to hold the offenders. Community supervision of offenders would be significantly scaled back.

The Office of Financial Management has a summary of the potential state agency impacts listed here. The office also has guidance for state employees facing a temporary layoff.

In 2013, legislators also came close to a government shutdown, reaching a budget deal only three days before the deadline.

Director of the Office of Financial Management David Schumacher said his office used contingency plans submitted by state agencies in 2013 as a starting point for the current shutdown preparations.

“This time as we’ve gone through, it’s been much more straightforward,” he said. “A lot of these questions have been wrestled with previously.”

The decisions about which government services will continue during a shutdown are based on a legal analysis of constitutional mandates and federal law, he said. Government services can also continue in case of an emergency or risk to public safety.

Temporary layoff letters will be sent to state employees next Tuesday. Schumacher acknowledged the letters will “generate anxiety,” although he said he doesn’t believe a shutdown will actually occur.

“I do think it is likely that letters will go out on the 23rd. I think would be wildly optimistic to think we’ll have a deal by then,” Schumacher said.

TVW taped the press conference — watch it at this link.


Pat McCarthy addresses debate over free tickets for lawmakers at U.S. Open

By | June 16, 2015 | Comments

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.

House again passes bill to eliminate high school biology test graduation requirement

By | June 11, 2015 | Comments

The state House passed a bill Thursday to remove a biology test from the state’s high school graduation requirements in an effort to provide diplomas to nearly 2,000 students who did not pass the test this year.

The class of 2015 is the first class required to pass the biology test or an alternative to graduate.

“This is so much bigger than a biology test,” said Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater. He said the state loses out on $370,000 in lifetime earnings each time a student fails to obtain a high school diploma.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, spoke against the bill, saying the state should not back away from its school reforms.

“I’m worried that as we retreat from some of these requirements, we’re not holding students accountable,” Orcutt said. “Accountable for learning, accountable for preparing themselves to be ready to go into the world and be successful.”

House Bill 2214 passed 83 to 6, and now heads to the Senate. The bill also passed during the first special session, but did not advance in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned for the second special session.

Republican Sen. Steve Litzow, who chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, released a statement saying the bill is “not a good lesson for our children.”

“Lowering standards is a poor excuse for a decades-long failure to create an education system that works for everyone,” Litzow said.

Earlier in the day, Reykdal and Rep. David Taylor held a press conference to draw attention to the issue. High school student Jesus Celes from Franklin Pierce School District is one of the 2,000 students who did not pass the biology exam this year.

“Not only for me, but for my classmates, we all work hard and just to see this thing holding us back is heartbreaking for me,” Celes said.

Watch the press conference below:

Categories: Education

New $3.5 billion proposal aims to reduce reliance on local school levies

By | June 11, 2015 | Comments

Paying competitive salaries for teachers and school employees would be the full responsibility of the state — not local school districts — under a new bill introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday.

The proposal would cost $3.5 billion over four years starting in 2018, and would not move forward without a dedicated revenue source attached. Lawmakers at a press conference Thursday say an agreement on the price tag shows a significant step forward, but work still needs to be done to find a way to pay for it.

School districts across the state are currently using a large chunk of their local property tax levy money to pay salaries — as much as 70 percent of local levy dollars in some districts.

Senate Bill 6130 aims to reduce that reliance on local levies to address concerns raised by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, which ruled the state was not meeting its duty to fully fund basic education.

The bill changes the definition of basic education to include competitive, market-based statewide salaries for school employees. The salaries would be reviewed periodically.

However, the salary provisions would only take effect if a revenue source is enacted by January 1, 2018 that generates enough money to pay for the increased salaries. The bill says that the state budget should not be cut to make up the additional revenue.

“The average teacher in Federal Way is paid $10,000 less than a teacher in Auburn next door,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier. He said the bill is an attempt to make a “rational system that works across Washington,” with the goal of providing an equal education for all students.

Sen. Christine Rolfes said some teachers would receive salary increases under the bill, while other school districts would still have to use a portion of levy dollars to make up the difference. All school districts would see a “significant increase” in funding under the bill, she said.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. TVW will carry the hearing live at this link.

Legislators at the press conference Thursday acknowledged the bill was unlikely to advance during the current special session. The press conference will be posted at this link.

Categories: Education, TVW

Today on TVW: House floor action, school finance reform bill

By | June 11, 2015 | Comments

TVW is covering several items today — live, taped and webcast. Here’s the roundup:

10:30 a.m. Thursday: Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, and Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, will hold a press conference about House Bill 2214, which is scheduled for a vote Thursday afternoon. The bill aims to fix problems with high school assessment requirements. TVW will tape this press conference and it will be available online at this link later.

11 a.m. Thursday: A bipartisan group of lawmakers will hold a media briefing on a new bill that addresses property levies and school finance. TVW will live webcast this briefing (if we can) at this link. If TVW cannot go live, it will still be taped for television later.

11 a.m. Thursday: The state House will come to the floor and is expected to go into caucus. They will return to the floor about 1 p.m. on Thursday to run several bills. Watch live on TVW or at this link.

1 p.m. Thursday: Senate Government Operations is holding a public hearing on district-based elections. This will be webcast-only at this link.

1:30 p.m. Thursday: The Senate Ways and Means committee is holding a public hearing on the new school finance reform bill. TVW will live webcast this hearing at this link. On television, TVW will either be live with this hearing or the House floor.


Categories: TVW