Washington State Legislative Update, March 28
By Jim Jesernig, WAWG lobbyist
People watching the 2013 Legislature caught a quick glimpse this week of how extremely difficult it will be to produce an Operating Budget. The Majority Caucus Coalition (MCC) had planned to release the Senate's proposed budget this week, but indicated by midweek that it would likely be another week before their budget would be released. This decision was followed by a statement from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter that the first House budget would be released in the, "… next couple of weeks."
Delaying the release of a major budget is not new, nor particularly unusual. However, Operating Budgets are usually released relatively quickly after the March Revenue and Caseload Forecasts so the House and Senate can start negotiating a final budget relatively quickly. The longer the two Chambers have to wait to release their budgets, (likely caused by the need to solidify the votes they need to get them enacted), the later it will be before both Chambers pass their respective budgets, and the later it will be before they start negotiating a compromise budget. If that process doesn't get started relatively quickly, it will all but assure that the Operating, Capital, and Transportation Budgets will not get enacted until sometime after the 2013 Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 28th.
In the vacuum of the Senate not releasing its proposed Operating Budget, Gov. Inslee released his "Budget Priorities", which were based upon $1.2B in new tax revenues, and attempted to increase education funding. Though the Governor maintained that he was "closing loopholes" and not "raising taxes", Republicans were quick to point out that this violated his campaign promise not to raise any new taxes. With the MCC in control of the Senate, is unlikely that any of the Governor’s revenue proposals will be seriously entertained.
While budget and tax discussions dominated the headlines this week, House and Senate Policy Committees continued working on bills from the opposite Chamber. The first major cutoff for this second half of the 2013 Session, the "Opposite House – Policy Committee" cutoff deadline, will occur next Wednesday, April 3rd. Any measures still "alive" after that deadline have a relatively good chance of being enacted this year.
WAWG, and all of the various agricultural organizations that lobby in Olympia, signed in opposing HB 1976, (a measure that would dedicate certain marijuana-related taxes to agricultural research), at a public hearing on that bill in front of the House Finance Committee last Friday, March 22nd. The main concern we had with HB 1976 was that the revenue from marijuana related taxes is exceedingly uncertain, much too uncertain to become the base funding for something as important as agricultural research. The Revenue Forecast Council validated our concerns when it refused to consider any possible marijuana related revenues in their March Forecast due to the distinct possibility that the federal government may invalidate Washington and Colorado's recently passed marijuana legalization initiatives.
The wheat industry indicated its support for SB 5616, (a measure that would extend the distance a farm vehicle could travel from any individual farm without being licensed), in front of the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, March 26th. This measure seemed to garner pretty strong bipartisan support in that Committee, but did run into a little bit of a roadblock when Rep Klippert indicated that his experience as a State Patrolmen would lead him to try and find one certain place for the decal to be placed on farm machinery. It is unclear whether or not whose concerns will be adopted in any kind of amendment to SB 5616 before it moves forward.
Finally, WAWG signed in opposing HB 1314, (the measure that would try to legalize the use of phosphorus from composted organic fertilizers that are now prohibited for commercial fertilizers), when this measure received a Public Hearing in front of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, March 26th. This bill is opposed by all of the agricultural groups with representation here in Olympia, since we believe that "phosphorus" is "phosphorus", and thus the entire bill banning some uses of phosphorus fertilizer is the best way to "fix" any problems caused by that measure.