Budget week in the Legislature

2016 legislative session • February 26, 2016 

The Current

Letter from Leadership 

Dear Friend:  

It was budget week in the Legislature. Both the House and Senate released their respective supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets. Once these budgets pass out of their respective chambers, state lawmakers will have until March 10 to reconcile differences and send final plans to the governor. A lot of work remains to be done in the remaining 13 days.

House supplemental operating budget

The House Democrats rolled out their supplemental operating budget, including $119.5 million in new tax increases. You can find a summary here

This budget was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, voted out of that committee on Tuesday, and passed off the House floor yesterday on a narrow 50-47 vote -- with one Democrat excused from voting. Our concerns with this proposal include new tax increases, an overreliance on the Budget Stabilization Account and the use of an accounting gimmick to balance the four-year outlook. We offered 35 amendments during the debate, but only nine were accepted.   

The good news is the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has proposed a more balanced, fiscally responsible alternative. It does not rely on new tax increases and does not raid the Budget Stabilization Account. You can find an overview here.

House supplemental transportation budget, I-405 problems 

The supplemental transportation budget also passed off the House floor yesterday, but with a more bipartisan 84-13 vote. A summary can be found here. More information, including dollar amounts, is available in a story below.

There are a lot of things to like about this budget, including funding for: the recruitment, retention and increased compensation for the Washington State Patrol; structurally deficient bridges; and Republican-sponsored bills. There are also some problems with this plan, including funding for a controversial road user charge pilot program.

The House supplemental transportation budget also includes funding for the I-405 changes proposed by the governor recently. Unfortunately, the governor’s plan doesn’t address the root problem for I-405: congestion during peak hours. Some of his changes could take as long as three years to implement. This is not enough for commuters. 

Rep. Mark Harmsworth introduced two amendments on the House floor to address the ongoing problems on I-405, but unfortunately they were scoped. This means no votes were allowed on these measures. This recent blog post from the Washington Policy Center analyzes what happened. 

I-405 express toll lanes have been a disaster since their roll-out in September. People who use this roadway deserve better outcomes and a more receptive WSDOT.

House supplemental capital budget

The bipartisan House supplemental capital budget was unveiled at a news conference on Wednesday. Also known as the construction budget, state representatives laid out plans to build K-3 classrooms, improve our state's mental health system, help homeless youth, and fund the Public Works Trust Fund. You can learn more in this news release. This budget is expected to reach the House floor early next week.

Navy Day

We paused yesterday to honor the U.S. Navy through House Resolution 4670. We always appreciate it when these dedicated men and women come visit and share time with us in caucus. Reps. Chad Magendanz and Dave Hayes, who both served in the U.S. Navy, provided floor speeches for us. You can watch the ceremony here.

In your service,

Rep. Dan Kristiansen
House Republican Leader
39th District

Commission on Hispanic Affairs

Latino Legislative Day 

Monday was Latino Legislative Day on the Capitol campus. We were treated to musical and dance performances in the rotunda. Our members also had an opportunity to discuss public policy with the Commission on Hispanic Affairs in House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen's office (pictured).


Problems with the House Democrats' supplemental operating budget 

House Democrats have once again rolled out tax-increase proposals, which have failed several times in the past, in an effort to increase state spending. This year's version includes six proposals that would raise taxes by $397.9 million over the ongoing and next two-year budget cycle. While their supplemental operating budget is built on these new tax collections, House Democrats refuse to actually vote on the legislation that would authorize them. 

One of these new tax increases, to limit the sales tax exemption for nonresidents, has been proposed seven times since 2011. In this Tax Preference Performance Review, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee recommended continuing this preference because it meets its implied public policy objective. 

The House Democrats' spending plan also relies too heavily on the Budget Stabilization Account, also known as the rainy day fund, for non-emergency spending. If there was one takeaway from the February state revenue forecast, it's that clouds are forming in our state's economy. While we always hope for the best, it's fiscally responsible to plan for the worst. The House Democrats' approach, if enacted, would leave our state vulnerable when that economic storm arrives. This could jeopardize important state programs and services.   

In his statement yesterday, our budget lead Rep. Bruce Chandler highlighted the fact the House Democrats exclude projected expenditures for the remaining phase-in for K-3 class-size reduction. He went on to say we should view this budget more as a negotiating position rather than an attempt at a credible spending plan. You can listen to his audio clip here

public charter school rally

Saving our public charter schools

We tried two things this week to save public charter schools in our state. Unfortunately, both solutions were denied by the House Democrats.

In the House Education Committee yesterday, we did a procedural motion in an attempt to advance public charter school legislation out of committee. It was voted down by the House Democrats on the committee. The bill we tried to move forward passed the Senate earlier this year with bipartisan support.  

This was a huge disappointment to the children, teachers and parents who were at the Capitol to support public charter schools yesterday. Rep. Chad Magendanz is pictured above talking at the group's rally.

We also proposed an amendment to the House supplemental operating budget that would have funded the Washington Charter School Commission. It was voted down on a party-line vote.


House passes supplemental transportation budget

The 2015-17 transportation budget that passed last year included $3.8 billion for capital projects, $2.3 billion for operating programs and $1.5 billion in debt service payments. The Connecting Washington plan included an additional $508.5 million which, combined with $32.6 million in compensation changes in the operating budget, brought the total to $8.2 billion.

The House supplemental transportation budget approved on Thursday would provide an additional $422 million for capital projects ($325 million in reappropriations), $51 million for operating programs and $3 million in debt service payments, for a total increase of $476 million. This would push the 2015-17 transportation budget to $8.6 billion.

The House and Senate must now negotiate a compromise budget in the final 13 days of the legislative session.  

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