Washington State Legislative Update, March 7, 2013
By Jim Jesernig, WAWG lobbyist
As the 2013 Session moved past the halfway point this week, the action in the Legislature moved from the policy and fiscal committees to the House and Senate Floors. Facing a "House of Origin" cut-off deadline next Wednesday, March 13th, House and Senate Leadership will be asking their members to spend long hours in both Chambers to pass the legislation that they deem important to get enacted. Unfortunately, the democratically controlled House and the Republican leaning Senate often have diametrically opposed opinions as to what bills should get enacted, and which bills should "die". By March 13th, roughly 70% of the bills that have been introduced will be "dead".
The next major phase of the 2013 Legislature will begin on March 20th when the Revenue Forecast Council issues its March revenue and caseload forecasts. Operating, Capital, and Transportation Budgets will begin appearing soon after that date. One of the lasting repercussions of the Supreme Court decision invalidating the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases was the fact that Senate Leadership reiterated this week that no tax measure would even be brought up for a vote in the Senate unless 30 members agree in advance to support that tax increase. While the House is poised to pass revenue increases by either increasing new taxes, or repealing various tax preferences, the Senate has steadfastly indicated that those revenue alternatives will not even be seriously entertained in the Upper Chamber.
Gov. Inslee raised quite a few eyebrows approximately a month ago when he stated, (in spite of his campaign pledge to not support any new taxes), that he would support taking the sunset off of several B&O tax surcharges that are set to expire this year, which would increase state revenues by approximately $300M over the next two years. Critics that believe he would support any new taxes, then jumped on comments he made to the House Democratic Caucus this week that he would also support eliminating various tax preferences, or as he called them, "loopholes". Those comments have hurt the new Governor's credibility pretty significantly with the business community, that believe he will backtrack on his campaign promise to veto any tax increase if the legislature ever actually raises taxes.
Eric Maier again did a very nice job indicating WAWG’s opposition to Initiative 522 at a public hearing in front of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, and the House Technology & Economic Development Committee, on Wednesday, March 6th. Testimony at this House hearing pretty much mirrored testimony in front of the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee last month. With one of our main goals of this hearing being to not make it a media circus, we were pleasantly surprised to find essentially no media present during the hearing, since they had all been pulled off to a separate hearing on a bill being heard at the same time that would potentially eliminate the death penalty. It actually took a while on Thursday to find the article in the Seattle Times on the hearing, since it ended up being a tiny little article on the bottom of page B4!
After the I-522 hearing in the House, Eric and I met with Tom Dooley, (the lobbyist for the North-Central Washington Grain Growers), on a possible “Short-Line Rail” Day in Olympia later this month. Even though Gov. Gregoire allocated $2.5M for short-line rail repairs in the budget that she submitted to the 2013 Legislature, there is a lot of concern that this appropriation might be "raided" by other stakeholders that want their projects to be completed with funding from the Transportation Budget. The idea we have been working on is to get a group of growers, shippers, rail operators, and other businesses that are dependent upon short-line rail, over to Olympia to have a focused session with members of the House in Senate Transportation Committees. If we can pull it off, we're hoping to hold this day in late March or early April.