Washington State Legislative update, April 18
By Jim Jesernig, WAWG lobbyist
With just 10 days left in the 2013 Regular Session, the Legislature is running out of time to negotiate and enact its Operating, Transportation, and Capital Budgets. Though both the Senate and House have passed their versions of the Operating Budget, the House has not yet passed the $1.3B tax increase package out of the Finance Committee that will be required to fund the House budget. Until that occurs, and the full House passes this package, there will only be modest negotiations on the Operating Budget.
Once the House does enact its tax increase package, full-blown negotiations on the Operating Budget will occur between the House, Senate, and Gov. Inslee. While everyone agrees that an Operating Budget will not be hammered out by Sunday, April 28th, (when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn), there is a lot of disagreement on whether this budget will ultimately be enacted in May, June or even July.
Going into the 2013 Session the big controversy surrounding the Transportation Budget was whether or not there would be a revenue package. Though the Senate has been somewhat cool to the House Democrats $8.4B tax increase package, (largely driven by a $.10 hike in the gas tax that is implemented over the next four years), there is a pretty good group of bipartisan Senators that expressed support for some kind of a tax increase package to pay for transportation repair and renovation. Accordingly, even though there is some disagreement on the size of the revenue package, it has been a pretty open and peaceful dialogue.
Though it is somewhat surprising that a tax increase package of this size has turned out to be somewhat noncontroversial, the astonishing development is that the entire Transportation budgeting process has almost ground to a halt over a disagreement on the "Columbia River Crossing" (CRC) project, which would fund a new bridge on I-5 connecting Portland and Vancouver.
The Senate majority has come out strongly against the CRC, saying that the planned bridge is too low, and that it should not include light rail. The House Democrats haveincluded this project in their tax package, which the Senate has said must be excludedif the revenue package is going to stand a chance of Senate approval. My guess is that it's going to take quite a while to sort out the Transportation Budget, and the Transportation revenue package, due in large part to the CRC controversy.
As the Transportation Budget process floundered, WAWG sent a letter to House and Senate Transportation Committee Chairs expressing the wheat industry's priorities for the Transportation Budget that the Legislature ultimately sends down to Gov. Inslee. Our top priority is the $2.4M for the overall PCC track rehabilitation. Our letter noted that without the overall rehabilitation work that this appropriation would pay for, individual line progress is hampered, and in some cases, useless. Our secondary priorities were transportation grants for both the Co-Ag shuttle loading facility ($341,000), and a CW line project in Lincoln County ($1.16M).
Though the House Democrats new revenue bill (HB 2038) will receive a Public Hearing in front of the House Finance Committee Friday morning, we do not plan to testify against this revenue package because it not only doesn't include any of the tax preferences important to agriculture, but it is also not going to be seriously entertained by the Senate.
This will be the last Weekly Update for the 2013 Session. Once the Legislature does ultimately enact its Operating, Transportation, and Capital Budgets, I will be sending out a "Session Wrap Up" to explain how all of this worked out.