Legislative Report 02/28: 2018 session winding down

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Today marks the 52nd day of the 2018 Legislative Session. With just more than a week left remaining for the regular session, the legislature is focused on moving the supplemental budget through the final days of the session and passing bills off the floor. This Friday at 5 p.m. is the deadline to pass bills from the opposite chamber. March 8 is the final day of the regular legislative session.

The Senate passed their proposed supplemental budget on a party-line vote last Friday. The House passed their proposed supplemental budget also by a party-line vote on Monday. Budget leads from the House and Senate will work over the remaining days of the legislative session to resolve differences in the two budget proposals.

One notable difference in the proposed supplemental operating budgets is how each chamber responded to the Washington State Supreme Court’s order last November that said the state must speed up funding for education by providing an additional $1 billion to fully fund teacher and staff salaries by September of 2018. Senate Democrats proposed in their operating budget to dedicate $972 million to address this order. By contrast, the House’s supplemental operating budget originally did not respond to the Supreme Court order to speed up funding teacher and staff salaries this year. However, the House supplemental budget was amended on the floor to provide $775.4 million in funding for teacher and staff salaries for 2018.

Another contrast in the budgets from each chamber is that the Senate budget has no new taxes. By contrast, the House budget relies on a new capital gains tax, which requires a separate vote on its own bill. The Senate budget lead has indicated that the Senate does not anticipate passing a new tax when the state is collecting more revenue than expected.

Carbon Tax Proposal Clears Key Senate Fiscal Committee

The Senate Ways & Means Committee passed out the Governor’s carbon tax proposal, 2SSB 6203, with amendments on Thursday. The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 14-10 with all the Republican committee members voting against it.

The revised bill establishes a carbon tax at $12 per metric ton beginning on July 1, 2019. The tax would increase $1.80 per year beginning on July 1, 2021, until the rate is capped at $30. In the first two years, the tax is projected to raise $766 million and increase to about $988 million in the next biennium.

The bill now awaits action by the full Senate. If enacted, Washington state would be the first in the nation to impose a direct tax on carbon emissions.