State legislative update 01/14: Democrats roll out transportation revenue package

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Friday marked the 34th day of this 60-day legislative session, and we have passed two key cut-off dates. The cut-off dates guide the session and help to whittle the thousands of bills that are introduced down to the few hundred pieces of legislation that may actually pass into law. Last week saw the passing of the second cutoff of the 2022 Legislative Session. Any bills that have not passed out of a policy committee by Feb. 3, and a fiscal committee by Feb.7 are considered dead and no longer eligible to move forward this year. Legislation not covered by these deadlines includes bills that are considered Necessary to Implement the Budget or “NTIB.”

The next deadline requires all nonbudget related bills to be approved by the chamber of origin (House bills need to be approved by the House; Senate bills need to be approved by the Senate) by 5 p.m. on Feb. 15 to remain under consideration.

This week, the latest state revenue forecast will be released, which budget writers will rely on for drafting their budget proposals. It is expected that the House and Senate will release their supplemental and capital budgets quickly after the revenue forecast is released. Budget writers are in a good position with Washington state now having a four-year budget surplus of $11.2 billion, according to a new policy brief from the Washington Research Council. On top of that, the state has one-time funds: $1 billion in the Washington rescue plan transition account, $1.3 billion in general federal relief funds, and about $1.2 billion in the budget stabilization account.

Democrat Transportation Leaders Roll Out Transportation Revenue Package

Last week, the Senate and House Transportation chairs (Sen. Marko Liias and Rep. Jake Fey) released a proposed transportation revenue package. The released budget documents can be found here. In total, the package clocks in at $16.8 billion over the next 16 years. Unique to this package proposal, negotiations took place in a partisan fashion, held solely between Democrats. As the package does not include new bonding, only a simple majority is needed for the bill to pass, requiring no Republican support.

During the announcement the chairs emphasized spending priorities included in the bill: funding newly discovered gaps within the Connecting Washington package, culverts, preservation and maintenance, ferries and a combination of multimodal projects including a “kids ride free program” that aims to provide cost-free transit to Washingtonians 18 and under. Key highlights from the spending bill include:

  • $3 billion in preservation and maintenance
  • $2.4 billion for fish barrier removal
  • $2.6 billion for new highway projects, including $1 billion for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge and funding for the US 2 Trestle
  • $1.4 billion for existing projects including both I-405 and SR 520
  • $3 billion for transit
  • More than $1.1 billion for ferries, including funds for 4 new vessels

Several stakeholders have expressed that the project list is marked by the one-party nature of negotiations, with a large imbalance leaving out much of Eastern Washington. The spending bill can be found here, a Climate Commitment Act spending summary can be found here, and an 18th Amendment spending summary can be found here.

Notably, the package does not rely on an increase in the state’s gas tax. Instead, the package is funded through several expected sources of revenue including $5.4 billion from the Climate Commitment Act (cap and trade legislation), $3.4 billion in federal infrastructure funds, $2 billion in a one-time transfer from the state general fund, and just under $1 billion in existing bonding authority. However, the proposal also calls for a new 6-cent tax on exported fuel expected to bring in just over $2 billion and $2 billion in additional fees. Of note, the revenue bill includes several local options for cities, authorizing a gas tax increase for communities along the Canadian border and authorizing an additional 2 percent utility tax on natural gas, steam energy or telephone services. Both the tax on exported fuel and the authorization of increased utility taxes saw significant pushback from their respective industries during the public hearing. The released revenue summary can be found here and the full resources bill can be found here.

The Senate Transportation Committee plans to pass the bill out of committee today.

Senate and House Revise Operating Plans to Add More Members to Participate in Floor Action

With the announcement of a virtual session earlier this winter came the commitment to reevaluate plans on a biweekly basis. Last week, both the House and Senate adjusted their hybrid session plans to allow more members on the chamber floor during floor action. Beginning this week, the Senate doubled the number of senators allowed on the chamber floor from 15 to 30 and the House quadrupled their numbers growing from 5 to 20. The remaining members of both chambers will continue to participate in floor action remotely. While the number of members participating in floor action onsite has changed, the legislature continues to remain largely virtual holding meetings and committee hearings remotely.

Redistricting Approved by the Senate

The lengthy state redistricting process is likely coming to an end as the Senate passed Concurrent Resolution 4407, amending the redistricting maps approved by the State Redistricting Commission last year. The changes incorporated in the bill were county auditor requested and are technical in nature. The amended maps can be viewed here. Lawmakers are able to amend the maps within the first 30 days of the session by a two-thirds vote of both chambers. Any changes to individual districts may not exceed 2 percent of the total population. While Tuesday marked an end to legislative deliberation over the maps, it may not completely close debate on the topic as the Commission’s process and maps face legal challenges that have yet to be resolved.

Given the messy nature of last year’s Commission process, and in an effort to provide further transparency, the Senate passed SB 5560 this week. The bill requires future redistricting commissions to make plans available publicly for at least 72 hours prior to voting, and any proposed amendments to the map must be discussed and voted on publicly. The commission must also submit their plan to the Legislature with maps, clear definitions and census data. SB 5660 would not apply to this year’s redistricting plan but would go into effect after the 2030 census. The bill will now be considered in the House.

Notable Bills Passed Out of Their House of Origin This Week:

The following bills passed a vote of the entire House of Representatives or Senate last week. Once a bill passes out of one chamber, it then moves to the second chamber, and the process repeats.

  • Drought Preparedness (2SSB 5746), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would provide permanent funding to prepare and respond to drought emergencies, including unanticipated and sudden droughts. The bill would appropriate $2,000,000 from the general fund into the State Drought Preparedness Account at the beginning of each biennium and, at the issuance of a drought emergency order, require the State Treasurer to transfer an amount necessary to bring the balance of the newly established Emergency Drought Response Account to $3,000,000 from the general fund. SB 5746 would also authorize Ecology to respond earlier when droughts are declared. The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate on Friday afternoon.
  • Short-Term Disaster Recovery Financial Assistance to Agricultural Producers (SHB 2051), sponsored by Rep. Alicia Rule (D-Blaine) was passed unanimously off the House floor on Wednesday evening. The bill would require the Conservation Commission to develop a short-term disaster recovery financial assistance program for farmers and ranchers. The program is specifically directed to initially address damages caused by the flooding in Whatcom County during November 2021. While the original bill included $600,000 in general fund state appropriations for the program, the specific appropriation was amended out in committee. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Timm Ormsby was reported to say that the funding will instead be decided in budget negations towards the end of session.
  • Concerning Tribal Consultation Regarding the Use of Certain Funding (ESHB 1753) sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), passed by the House on Thursday. ESHB 1753 requires state agencies administering funds from the Climate Commitment Act to offer consultation to tribes whose resources may be affected by the award of funds in question. The bill would also require funding applicants for certain Climate Commitment Act accounts to undertake a preapplication process with all tribes in the project area.
  • Including Benton County for the Farm Internship Program (SB 5812), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), was unanimously passed off the Senate floor on Tuesday. The bill would expand the existing farm internship pilot project to include Benton County. Currently, the program covers San Juan, Skagit, King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, Thurston, Walla Walla, Clark, Cowlitz and Lewis counties.

Notable Bills Not Subject to Cutoff  (NTIB):

  • Compliance Pathway for Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed Businesses (SHB 1682), sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), would create a compliance pathway for Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed (EITE) businesses as required by the passage of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA)/ Cap and Trade. Last year’s passage of the CCA required trailer legislation to determine a compliance pathway for EITEs from 2035 to 2050. EITE businesses had expressed concerns with the pathway that the legislation set forth arguing it was not achievable. Although the legislation was not heard in the House fiscal committee, this bill is likely not dead for the year. The Governor’s proposed budget provided funding for this legislation so Democrat leadership could easily designate this bill “Necessary to Implement the Budget.”
  • Implementing a Per Mile Charge on Vehicles (HB 2026), sponsored by Rep. Emily Wicks (D-Everett), would establish a road usage charge (RUC) program under the Department of Transportation. The RUC program would apply to new electric vehicles in July 2025, extending to hybrid and other vehicles voluntarily in the following years. The bill also requires the Joint Transportation Committee to look requirements for full implementation of the program and a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2029. During the public hearing in the House Transportation Committee last week, several business associations raised concerns with the absence of 18th amendment protection on the proposed RUC funding while both the Governor’s office and electric vehicle manufacturers cautioned that the proposal may dissuade some consumers from purchasing electric vehicles.

Notable Bills That Failed to Pass out of Fiscal Committee This Week (Dead Bills):

  • Supporting Washington’s food production System (HB 1631), sponsored by Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham), would have created the sustainable farms and fields advisor program housed in the state Conservation Commission. Under the program, advisors would help farmers implement practices that create green energy, energy efficiency and carbon sequestration. It is likely that this legislation may be turned in a budget proviso to include funding for such assistance to the Conservation Commission.
  • Improving Statewide Coordination in Support of Anadromous Fish Recovery (SHB 1653), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), would have builded upon the Governor’s salmon recovery efforts announced in December’s budget rollout. The legislation aimed to create a new venue for state agencies and tribes to come together and review progress towards salmon recovery. As a part of this effort the bill established the State Salmon Advisory Cabinet to foster statewide coordination and interagency relationships on salmon. Under the bill the cabinet would include the Governor’s office, agency representatives, legislative members, local governments, and tribal leaders.
  • Involuntary Removal of Property from Current Use Classification (HB 1683), sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), would have provided a pathway for a property owner of involuntarily removed property under the current use program to provide documentation that would prevent the removal of the property. The bill required documentation to be provided within a year of removal. If the appropriate documentation is presented, the property would be restored to the current use program and 80% of the taxes, penalties, and interest paid would be refunded to the property owner within 60 days.