Legislative update: Education funding, tax bills saw movement last week

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Friday marked the 49th day and the second cut-off deadline of the 2017 Legislative Session. Last week was focused on the fiscal committees hearing and passing out bills with a fiscal impact. Last Friday was the deadline for bills to pass out of fiscal committees unless they are bills needed to pass the budget.

Over the next week and a half, the legislature will be focused on passing bills out of their house of origin. This means fewer committee hearings and more Senate and House floor action. The deadline to pass bills out of the house of origin is by 5 p.m. on March 8 (i.e. Senate bills must pass Senate and House bills must pass House).

Governor’s revenue bills move out of Senate Budget Committee

The Senate Ways and Means Committee moved out three of the Governor’s tax bills last Friday (Capital Gains, Carbon, and B&O on Services). They were moved from the committee “without recommendation.”  Per Senate Rule 45, standing committees can advance a bill with one of four recommendations: do pass; do pass as amended; substitute bill do pass; or without recommendation.

A press release was sent out shortly after the vote to explain the action. In short, the chair of the Senate budget committee, Sen. John Braun, explained that he does not support the proposed tax increases, but said allowing the Inslee-requested legislation to move ahead without comment would give lawmakers the chance to determine how much support actually exists for these tax increases. He further explained the action was in no way an endorsement of the underlying policy, and these bills do not have the votes to pass out of the Senate.

House passes education funding plan

Last week, the Democrat-controlled House passed their education funding plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education. ESHB 1843 passed the House by a party line vote of 50-47. The legislation is estimated to cost about $7.6 billion over the next four years, but Democrats have not identified a specific funding source to pay for it.  Democratic leaders have said they would look at a variety of new revenue options such as taxing capital gains and carbon taxes.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed their funding plan earlier in the session. The Senate Republican plan would not require new taxes, but would revamp the state property tax and rely on about $800 million a year in unspecified savings in the state’s existing budget. However, new numbers recently released by nonpartisan staff show that the Senate Republican plan will cost more than originally anticipated.

Negotiations will continue as each chamber is expected to release their proposed budgets for the state for the next biennium in mid-March.