Legislative update 0401: Final negotiations on budget begin

From Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Monday marked the 79th day of the 2019 Legislative Session. The next legislative deadline is April 3 when all bills must pass out of the opposite chamber’s policy committees to remain alive, unless they are necessary to implement the budget.

Both chambers can now begin final budget negotiations after Senate Democrats released their budget plan last Friday. The Senate proposes spending $52.2 billion in the 2019-21 budget, which is $687.9 million less than the $52.6 billion House Democrat budget that passed off the House floor last Friday on a party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against it.

The Senate budget would increase spending by $7.5 billion over the current 2017-2019 budget. The proposal would increase state tax revenues by $421 million by changing the state’s real estate excise tax into a graduated tax similar to the House proposal. It would also raise $63 million by changing the nonresident sales tax exemption into a refund program (an issue of concern for border communities like Spokane and Vancouver), increasing B&O taxes for travel agents and increasing B&O taxes for prescription drug resellers.

The Senate also proposed an 8.9 percent tax on capital gains profits above $250,000. However, unlike the House, the Senate budget does not rely on the tax in order to balance. Instead, revenue from the tax would be used to reduce taxes for small businesses and fund a working families tax credit.

Below are items of interest to agriculture as budget negotiations begin:

  • The Senate budget provides $750k for the Governor’s office to contract with a neutral third party to establish a process for local, state, tribal and federal leaders and stakeholders to address issues associated with the possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to recover the Chinook salmon populations that serve as a vital food source for southern resident orcas. The contract is exempt from the competitive procurement requirements. The House budget does not contain any funding for this study.
  • House budget provides $500k for additional pesticide safety training at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The Senate budget provides no funding for this activity.
  • House budget provides $8.4 million to the Washington State Conservation Commission for the ongoing implementation of the Voluntary Stewardship Program. Senate budget does not provide any funding for this.
  • Senate budget provides the Washington State Conservation Commission with $1 million for conservation districts to increase landowner participation in voluntary actions to protect fish habitat. House budget provides $2 million to the Commission for this activity.
  • Neither budget provides funding for the Soil Health Initiative.
  • House budget provides $954,000 to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement HB 2097 that directs the department to begin assessing the population of grey wolves in Washington in order to determine if it is time for the state to remove wolves from its state-protected species list.