Legislative update: Budget negotiations to take center stage

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Yesterday marked the 100th day of the 2017 Legislative Session. Another important legislative deadline occurred last week, in which all bills must have passed out of both chambers to remain “alive” unless they are deemed necessary to implement the budget.

While the 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to end on April 23, it is a foregone conclusion that a special session will be needed to reach an agreement on the operating budget. Gov. Inslee will either call legislators back into special session immediately for up to 30 days, or he could choose to wait to declare a special session until budget writers are closer to having an agreement.

While both the Senate and House have passed their own budget proposals, formal negotiations on a final budget have yet to begin. House Democrats have proposed $3 billion in new taxes as part of their two-year budget plan, but have yet to vote on their tax proposal. Senate Republicans, who passed a budget that adds $3.7 billion to K-12 education, argue they cannot have serious negotiations until the House passes a balanced budget. Democrats have responded they have no intention to vote on their tax proposal until there is a final budget deal.

Although movement on the budget did not happen last week, there was action in the Capitol as opposite-chamber cutoff hit on Wednesday. The House moved its remaining policy-only legislation, as well as House Capital and Senate Transportation budget proposals and associated “trailer” bills. Floor action, including concurrence votes, will continue until the end of regular session this Sunday.

House passes capital budget without funding for WSU’s plant sciences building

The House unanimously passed their proposed capital budget last week. Unfortunately, despite having more money to spend in their capital budget proposal due to reliance on a tax increase on hazardous substances, the House proposal does not include funding for the Washington State University Plant Sciences Building. This was extremely disappointing news to the agriculture community.

By contrast, the Senate capital budget provides $52 million for the Plant Sciences building and $23 million for the Global Health building. Both of these buildings were top priorities for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) this session because of their importance to the wheat and agriculture industries.

WAWG is actively lobbying the legislature and governor’s office to adopt the Senate position and fund both buildings and to do this without raising the hazardous substance tax.

House passes increase to hazardous substance tax

The House-proposed capital budget relies on a large tax increase that it passed last week on a party-line vote of 50 to 48, which would negatively impact farmers. HB 2182 increases the hazardous substance tax, which applies to the first possession of petroleum products, pesticides and certain chemicals. The revenue from the tax is deposited into the Model Toxics Control Account which the legislature has routinely raided to fund other government programs.

WAWG opposes HB 2182 because the increased tax would increase the costs of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides, all essential inputs to crop production. HB 2182 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee today. This tax increase is not likely to be well received in the Senate.