With Jim Hedrick, WA State Lobbyist and Spokane Regional Advocate
Democrat budget writers released their supplemental operating budget proposals on Monday, February 21. Both the House and Senate budgets translate higher-than-expected state tax collections into increased spending on a variety of caucus priorities including healthcare, affordable housing, homelessness, education, the environment, and infrastructure. The House budget proposes increasing the budget to $65 billion, while the Senate budget proposes $63.4 billion. Republicans were quick to criticize, arguing neither budget proposes broad tax cuts.
Both House and Senate budgets propose:
- Transferring $2 billion from the general fund to Move Ahead Washington, the $16 billion, 16-year transportation package.
- Keeping the state paid family leave program solvent through June 30, 2023. The House spends $397 million, and the Senate spends $350 million.
- Substantial investments in K-12 public schools, with most of the funding going toward stabilizing school enrollment. $315 million in House, and $345 million in Senate. Funding for K-12 proposed by the House and Senate also would include money to fund additional counselors, nurses, and psychologists in schools.
- Providing a 3.25% pay raise for state workers on July 1, per a collective bargaining agreement. Most will also receive a one-time payment of $3,400. The tab for wages and benefits is $232 million in the Senate budget, $276 million in the House’s.
- Assistance for utilities such as broadband, energy, garbage, water, and recycling.
- Immediate shelter needs for the state’s homeless population.
Both budgets were heard hours after their release before the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees on Monday. Both the Senate Budget, SB 5693, and the House Budget, HB 1816, passed their respective committees on Wednesday, February 23. House and Senate proposals must be negotiated and combined into a final budget before the end of the legislative session, which wraps up on March 10.
Other majority Democrat proposals that are making news this week involve neighboring governors and legislatures pushing back against the Senate’s proposed six-cent tax on fuel exports in the Move Ahead Washington package. More than 90% of fuel consumed in Oregon for example, is refined in Washington. Alaska legislators have pledged retaliation, including a six-cents per pound tax on fish caught by Washington vessels, a six-cent per foot tax on Washington fishing boats mooring in Alaska, and a $15.75 per barrel surcharge on crude exported to Washington. Governor Inslee and legislative Democrats have not indicated the outcry has caused them to rethink the proposed tax. A few quotes from around the northwest include:
- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: “I spoke with @GovInslee today and made very clear that Washington taking unilateral action to increase gas prices for Oregon families and businesses is unacceptable.”
- Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy: “Washington State is currently debating a tax that targets Alaska’s fuel costs. Their view of Alaska as a colony is reflected on a tax on all of us.”
- Idaho Gov. Brad Little: “The State of Washington is at it again – trying to tax Idahoans unfairly. AG Wasden and I called on WA Governor Jay Inslee to step in and stop the state’s attempts to increase the cost of fuel for Idahoans and citizens of other Western states.”
Senate Transportation Chair Sen. Marko Liias (D-21) said of Governor Brown, “The fact that she dare say a word is a joke. This governor down in Oregon is living in fantasyland. She is in the last few months of her term. She is losing relevance. She is a lame duck. Obviously, she is grasping for something to stay in the headlines as her successor is being selected.” Liias later apologized for his remarks in a statement on the Senate floor and in a written message submitted to Governor Brown.
On Thursday, February 24, the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs committee passed a pared down version of HB 1837 (Bronoske, D-28), the contentious ergonomics bill. The striker (i.e. new bill) prohibits the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) from adopting more than one industry ergonomics standard per year until January 1, 2027 and limits the first rule to employers with employees performing janitorial and building cleaning services. Additionally, it requires L&I when adopting an industry-specific rule, to report the criteria for selecting the specific industry that is subject to the rule.
The effort to extend collective bargaining rights to employees of the legislature was renewed this week with the introduction of HB 2124 (Riccelli, D-3). The bill creates the Office of State Legislative Labor Relations (OSLA) and requires the OSLA to study and report on options for the legislature to implement collective bargaining for legislative employees. It requires collective bargaining with legislative employees to begin no earlier than May 1, 2024, with the first agreements taking effect no sooner than July 1, 2024. Under the bill, legislative employees have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and have the right to refrain from any or all such activities. The right to strike or refuse to perform official duties is not granted. This bill is considered “necessary to implement the budget” and therefore can live on until the end of session. The previous iteration died in the House Rules Committee.
As the Omicron variant of Covid-19 surge wanes, the Washington State Senate Facilities and Operations Committee announced this week it would allow some members of the public in the gallery to watch floor debates. Members of the public will be allowed in the North Gallery of the Senate but must take a Covid-19 test beforehand. Masking and physical distancing will be required. A new metal detector has also been installed outside the North Gallery to prevent weapons from making their way in. The House Executive Rules Committee also authorized an increase in the number of lawmakers allowed on the House floor.
March 4 – Opposite House Floor Cutoff
March 10 – Last day of Regular Session
For more information contact Jake Mayson, Director of Public Policy and for more details about any of the bills in this article, visit the Washington State Legislature page to search by bill number. Get caught up with legislative updates from weeks two, three, four, and five.
Article Source: Greater Spokane