Legislative Action Report — April 17, 2015

Reminder: the LAC meets this Sunday, April 19, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Delridge Library, 5423 Delridge Way SW. We are looking forward to hearing from Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th), especially about the compromise marijuana bill that passed, and from Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (34th), Chair of House Environment and on the House Transportation Committee.

We’ll have a Bill Tracker update next week, reflecting cutoff for floor action for the two houses. What remains, of course, is agreement between the House and the Senate on the three budgets: the General Fund, the Capital (construction) Budget, and the transportation package. There is a good amount of agreement on the Capital Budget, with the Senate funding the Housing Trust Fund at $65 million and the House at $80 million. Please ask your legislators to go for $80 million for the Housing Trust Fund, to make up for $0 last year and only one earmarked project to King County the year before.

I’ve drawn on some of our wisest analysts to give you an overview of what’s going on behind closed doors in Olympia. Read on.

With disagreement in the transportation package over the amount of maintenance funding, the percentage of transit funding (a tiny 3% in the Senate) and crucially, the amount of borrowing authority to fund Sound Transit 3 over the next 17 years, no one thinks they will make their session deadline of April 26th. See details below. Both parties have agreed to raise the gas tax by 11.7 cents per gallon on top of the current 37.5 cents and the federal 18.4 cents per gallon.

Surprising no one, the greatest disagreement is over the revenue side of the General Fund budget. Democrats are insisting on more revenue to pay for both K-12 education and the human services safety net, including court-ordered increases in mental health treatment which the Senate budget cuts.

Democrats are fighting for a capital gains excise tax on just 32,000 individuals. Republicans are claiming it is an income tax and spreading fear, misunderstanding and distrust. In response, one bill would submit the $250,000 per person capital gains exemption to a constitutional amendment. In answer to the objection that it’s too variable, Democrats create a rainy-day stabilization fund. Please lobby your Senators to support the capital gains tax as part of needed revenue.

I’m off to Pasco for the State Democratic Central Committee meeting, back Sunday for our KCD Legislative Action Committee meeting. Here’s what my sources are saying:

–Sarajane Siegfriedt, LAC Co-Chair

“Andy Hill, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and write a budget that’s actually legal,” said Jaxon Ravens, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party. “The Senate budget hides cuts to programs working families depend on with massive gimmicks and funds transfers that are just not sustainable. And Andy Hill claimed there was a pay raise for state workers in his budget that just did not exist. It’s time to cut the hocus pocus and get down to the real work of passing a sustainable budget that puts the middle class first, like one the House passed last week.”

Earlier this month, The Olympian, in an editorial, said Andy Hill and the Senate Republican’s budget, by breaking negotiated contracts with state workers, is “illegal” and the “wrong solution” for Washington.

Last week, House Democrats passed a sustainable budget that puts the middle class first. It fully funds education, invests in programs that benefit working-class families, and in a state that has one of the most unfair tax systems in the nation, finally makes the wealthy and well-connected pay their fair share.

By James Casey
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is courting sanctions from the state Supreme Court for failure to fund basic education, said the senator representing the North Olympic Peninsula.

Neither the state Senate nor the House budget eliminates the need for local levies to support schools, which the court insists is the state’s responsibility.

The court, which found the state Legislature in contempt in September, gave it until at least the end of this session — scheduled to end April 26 — to show progress toward that goal before it implemented sanctions.

And while the legislators have added all-day kindergarten to the state curriculum and made an attempt to curtail class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, they haven’t met the court’s demand for a permanent revenue stream that doesn’t depend on local property tax initiatives.

“That is an 80 to 89 percent possibility,” state Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam said Friday about contempt sanctions.

From our friends at Futurewise on the House Transportation budget passed Tuesday:

We need to advocate for a responsible proposal that gives transportation choices to all of Washington. The House gives us this opportunity. Click here to tell your legislators to support the House transportation proposal. This is how the two chambers differ:

  1. Sound Transit gets the full requested local authority amount to ask voters to support a 3rd phase of light rail expansion from Tacoma to Everett. Expansion that will help the Puget Sound region expand high capacity transit and relieve congestion.
  2. The House increased direct state funding in transportation choices from 3.5% to 7.6% of the total budget. We believe Washington deserves a balanced transportation system that moves us forward.
  3. The House also removed the poison pill provision that forced a choice between increased transit funding and requiring cleaner fuels.

Helpful graphic from Publicola’s Josh Feit:

The House [transportation] proposal is far from perfect — it lacks investments for reducing stormwater pollution from roads and does not significantly increase maintenance of existing roadways from the Senate passed version. But unlike their colleagues in the Senate, the House chose not to play political games with our state’s transportation budget.

Legislative Action Report — April 6, 2015

Tuesday, April 7th is the deadline for fiscal bills to move out of committee. You will find our Bill Tracker here. Among our bills that died at the policy cutoff are Breakfast after the Bell, Paid Sick Leave, Equity in Contraceptive Care and Small Consumer Installment Loans. The Washington Voting Rights Act survives.

After long hearings Thursday and Friday, the Senate postponed its vote on its General Fund budget until Monday, when it passed 26-23, a straight party-line vote. Our best resource for budget analysis is the Washington Budget and Policy Center.
Their analysis of the two budgets is here (http://budgetandpolicy.org/schmudget).

Democrats complained that the Senate no-new-taxes budget skims funds from local governments, infrastructure and many other sources, underfunds negotiated state employees’ contract increases by half, fails to address McCleary local levy deficits, cuts mental health and fails to restore TANF cuts and much of the $12 billion in cuts to the post-2010 recession budgets. Although the House and the Senate were nearly in agreement about K-12 (spending $1.3 Billion in Senate), their approaches to higher education funding were wildly different, with the Senate cutting tuition by some 25% (but not in community colleges), while the House stepped up the number of need grants funded, helping lower-income recipients more.

Still to come: the House Transportation and the House and Senate Capital budgets. Given the differences in the budget approaches, the go-home date of April 26 is increasingly in doubt.

Elway Poll: Voters Just as Divided as Legislators on Budget

If Washington legislators are looking to public opinion to declare a favorite in their budget face-off, both sides are likely to be disappointed. When it comes to funding public education and balancing the state government budget, voters seem to be just as divided as their representatives in the legislature.

Asked to choose between the two general approaches, voters interviewed in this survey gave neither majority support, although there was a slight edge to the “no new taxes” approach: 48% favored “Increase spending on public education using current revenue, then fund the rest of state government with the money remaining — even if that means further cuts to other programs and services”; 43% favored “Increase spending on public education and avoid further cuts to other programs and services — even if that means raising some taxes.”

Adding proposed funding mechanisms to the mix did nothing to clarify the picture. Majorities of survey respondents favored the Republicans’ idea to divert marijuana taxes away from public health to education. But just as large a majority opposed the GOP plan to reduce the state employee raises negotiated last year. Slight majorities said that the Democrats’ taxes on capital gains and bottled water would be “acceptable.” Respondents split evenly on the Democrats’ plan to raise the Business and Occupation Tax for professional services. Public opinion on these questions broke along predictable, partisan lines:

  • Two-thirds of Democrats (64%) generally preferred raising taxes to cutting programs; sizable majorities of Democrats said that every proposal listed was at least “acceptable” — except rejecting the negotiated state-worker contracts, which 68% opposed. Most popular among Democrats was the capital gains tax (75%).
  • Two-thirds of Republicans (68%) favored funding education with current revenue, “even if that means further cuts in other programs and services.” Most Republican voters opposed the capital gains tax (62%), the B&O tax increase (64%), and the bottled water tax increase (58%). Most favored the marijuana tax diversion (59%). Republicans were divided on rejecting state employee contracts (45% in favor; 47% opposed).
  • Independents were generally inclined toward program cuts (54%) and away from tax increases (36%), but were divided on potential funding sources. Most Independents opposed the B&O tax increase (56%), bottled water tax (52%) and the state-employee contract rejection (55%); but most favored the marijuana tax diversion (62%).
  • Independents were evenly divided on the capital gains tax (47% on each side).

Bottom line:  these voters would prefer to fund education and balance the budget with existing revenue, but they are open to persuasion on tax increases. Not surprisingly, the taxes most favored are those deemed most likely to be paid by other people. A bigger problem: the tax proposals most voters support won’t produce enough revenue. So there is work to be done—both in crafting this budget and in generating sufficient support among the voters to sustain it.

6 APRIL 2015 © THE ELWAY POLL Excerpts

Sarajane Siegfriedt and Steve Zemke Legislative Action Co-Chairs

Legislative Action Report — March 30, 2015

No bills died this week. With appreciation to our friends and colleagues at Washington State Budget & Policy Center, the State League of Women Voters, and the State Low-Income Housing Alliance, here is a compendium of their budget analyses, which reflect our priorities, particularly for education and human services which are by far the largest part of the operating budget. We ask you also to support their recommended action steps as well as those of the WLIHA and the Budget & Policy Center, remembering that the budget bills will be voted out very soon. A cutoff calendar is included at the end.

Analysis by the Washington State League of Women Voters:

On Friday the House Democrats released their proposed 2015-17 budget package, including how they plan to pay for it. There will be at least one public hearing on this package, on Monday; and then it is expected to pass the House and move to the Senate.

The Senate, in turn, will adopt its budget, which is expected to look quite different from what was released by the House. Then representatives of both caucuses in both houses of the Legislature will negotiate a final, compromise budget.

Speed is of the essence at this point. The Supreme Court’s anticipated review of the McCleary case compliance (ample state funding for education) on April 27 creates urgency for working rapidly toward a budget compromise. As you know, the state budget must be balanced.

Preliminary analysis of this House proposed budget indicates that it goes farther than the Governor’s budget did to fund basic education, including funding to reduce K-3 class sizes and to assure teachers get their cost of living adjustments and additional benefits. While the shortfall has been estimated at $4.5 billion for this biennium, the Governor proposed an increase of only $2.3 billion. The House budget has an increase of $3.2 billion. The House proposed paying for this by acknowledging new revenue generated by the improved economy, by initiating a capital gains tax, by closing some tax loopholes and by shifting the business and occupation tax rates. The Representatives sponsoring this proposal also spoke of the need to further increase state funding to address the local levies now paying for education but did not say how that would happen. For more information on the capital gains tax, follow this link. This new revenue source would affect only those with means, adding more fairness to the overall tax structure of Washington State.

The House budget proposal also would increase investment in early learning programs, in higher education and mental health, social services and other basic needs. The Governor’s proposed carbon pollution program was not included in the House proposal, but Representatives spoke to their interest in continuing to discuss that option (which League also supports).
Action Suggestions for this Week from the League of Women Voters:

  • Contact your representatives and urge them to support the House budget.
  • Sign on to the petition circulated by our coalition partner Washington United for Fair Revenue. Find more revenue information by clicking here.
  • Listen to the “Where’s the Dough? On the Hunt for Washington’s Tax Dollars” on public radio station KPLU 88.5. You can hear or read the series by clicking here.

Next week we’ll update you on where budget and policy matters stand in our customary format. Thanks for being BOLD advocates.

     Pat Dickason, Action Chair and the Lobby Team

From Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance:

First tell your elected officials that you endorse the House budget!

The House budget protects vital services that help people with very low incomes who experience a disability keep their homes. It funds important programs that help homeless young people. And it invests over $110 million in affordable housing! That’s why we need you to urge your legislators to pass this budget out of the House.

Go here to take action

The big news is that the capital budget contains $110,200,000 for affordable housing with $80 million specifically for the Housing Trust Fund! But there’s even more good news regarding the operating budget, with just one budget issue that we’re disappointed about. Check out our housing & homelessness analysis of the budgets!

The Washington State Budget & Policy Center posted this analysis on Friday:

House Budget Proposal Prioritizes Funding for Education

Posted by Kim Justice at Mar 27, 2015 10:16 PM | Permalink

The House budget released [this morning] recognizes that fixing our broken revenue system is necessary to make progress toward creating shared prosperity in Washington state (a message that was also detailed in the Progress Index we released earlier this week). The two-year spending proposal prioritizes investments for kids and students using $1.5 billion in new revenue. The House proposal makes sizable investments in early learning, makes college more affordable, and keeps the state on track to fully fund basic education for all children by 2018 (required in the McCleary court case). It does this while also protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Washingtonians. Investment highlights in the budget include:

Education* (see graphic for breakdown):

  • Adding over 3,000 subsidized child care slots ($72 million)
  • Improving the quality and stability of child care ($114 million for Early Achievers and Early Start Act)
  • Making the next installment toward fulfilling the constitutional and court-mandated obligation to fully fund basic education ($1.4 billion)
  • Providing cost-of-living adjustments and increased health benefits to teachers ($588 million)
  • Freezing tuition and increasing financial aid at public colleges and universities ($220 million)

Economic Security**

  • Fully restoring the funding that was previously cut for food assistance ($10 million)
  • Allowing parents receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to keep a portion of their child support payments ($8 million)

Healthy People & Environment***

  • Increasing investments in mental health services ($130 million)
  • Adding staff to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect ($16 million)

Raising Revenue

To make these important investments, lawmakers outlined the steps they intend to take to raise additional resources while also addressing our upside-down tax system. These include:

  • Taxing high-end capital gains ($570 million): The House plan would apply a new 5 percent tax on profits from the sale of corporate stocks and other financial assets above $50,000 per year for a married couple ($25,000 for singles). Check out our capital gains tax website for more information on why this is a sensible improvement to Washington state’s upside-down tax system.
  • Eliminating seven wasteful tax breaks ($300 million) Tax breaks for the following would be eliminated to help fund improvements to schools: travel agents; prescription drug wholesalers; royalties from licensing software, trademarks, and other “intangible” property; oil refineries; bottled water; nonresident shoppers; and banks.
  • Ensuring out-of-state retailers play by the rules ($85 million): Due to federal law, most large, out-of-state retailers get a huge advantage over small “brick and mortar” stores located in Washington state: they don’t have to charge sales taxes. The House plan would help level the playing field by requiring out-of-state retailers who have agreements with businesses located in Washington state to apply sales taxes to goods sold here.
  • Increasing the Business & Occupation (B&O) tax applied to personal and professional services and reducing taxes for small businesses ($532 million): During the Great Recession, policymakers temporarily increased the B&O tax applied to service businesses — ranging from doctors and lawyers to plumbers and hair stylists — to 1.8 percent from 1.5 percent. That 0.3 percent surcharge expired in 2013. The House plan would reinstate it, but would also increase a tax credit for small businesses. The credit would eliminate B&O taxes for businesses with gross incomes below $100,000 per year. Businesses with gross incomes as high as $200,000 per year would benefit from the expanded credit.

While no revenue is included in the budget proposal for capping and pricing carbon pollution, lawmakers have expressed interest in pursuing a proposal that would yield even more revenue.

Stay tuned to schmudget for more-detailed analysis on the budget and revenue proposals in the coming days.

To learn more about what state lawmakers can do to make progress in Washington State, read our Progress Index. And specifically, read more analysis on:

Legislative Cutoff Calendar

April 1, 2015 Last day to read in committee reports from opposite house, except House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.
April 7, 2015 Last day to read in opposite house committee reports from House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.
April 15, 2015* Last day to consider opposite house bills (5 p.m.) (except initiatives and alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, differences between the houses, and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session).
April 26, 2015 Last day allowed for regular session under state constitution.
* After the 94th day, only initiatives, alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, matters that affect state revenue, messages pertaining to amendments, differences between the houses, and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session may be considered.

Compiled by Sarajane Siegfriedt, Co-Chair King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee Sarajane3h@comcast.net

Disabilities Committee

The newly formed King County Democrats Committee on Disabilities is seeking interested disabled persons and allies to staff the Committee, which helps people obtain their accommodations within the Democratic Party, educates on ableism, and works on legislation pertinent to disabilities. One does not have to attend the full County meetings to participate. Committee meetings will be four times a year. Our first meeting will be March 23rd at 7:00PM. Please call 206-632-2868 between noon and 11:00PM for more information. This will be a fragrance free event.

March 24 Executive Board Meeting

The agenda for our March 24 Executive Board meeting (7pm, Renton Carpenters’ Hall) will include the following items: