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.

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