State legislative update 02/21: Transportation revenue package moving quickly

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Friday marked the 40th day of the 2022 Legislative Session. On Feb. 15, the Legislature reached an important milestone—the deadline to pass bills out of their house of origin. This meant that House bills had to be voted out of the House and Senate bills had to be voted out of the Senate by that deadline. Bills that failed to meet this deadline are considered dead and ineligible to move forward this year unless considered “Necessary To Implement the Budget (NTIB).”

On Feb. 16, the legislature began hearing bills from the opposite chamber. Bills are again assigned to committees and have the same type of work sessions, public hearings and debate as in the original chamber. The next legislative deadline is Feb. 24 in which all bills must pass out of their policy committee to remain alive.

Senate Passes Transportation Package

Since introduction last week, the “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package has moved swiftly through the legislative process. The Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill out of committee on Feb. 14. Just one day later, the Senate had a lengthy debate on the floor regarding the package, ultimately passing the bill on a party line vote with only Democrats supporting the package. On Thursday, the House Transportation Committee had a public hearing on the package.

As a reminder, the package invests more than $16.8 billion in the state’s transportation system over the next 16 years. While historically, transportation packages have been bipartisan in Washington, this package was developed with only input by Democrats and does little for rural areas and Eastern Washington. Concerns in the package also include $4.5 billion in new taxes and fees to fund the package. Republicans have argued that with record state reserves (more than $11 billion), the package should have a larger contribution from the general fund.

As reported last week, the transportation plan includes a 6-cent-per gallon tax on fuels manufactured in state but sold in other states, including Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. The proposed fuel export tax would be the first in the country and will certainly face constitutional questions. Elected officials in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska have promptly voiced their opposition to the fuel export tax and have discussed potential retaliation against Washington state should this pass. The package is also funded by a local option utility tax on natural gas and telecommunications which is controversial and has no nexus to transportation.

Washington Revenue Projections Increase By $2.7 Billion

On Feb. 16, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released an updated revenue forecast, once again bringing budget writers good news—the state is expected to collect $2.774 billion more in revenue. Combined with the prior increases experienced since lawmakers adopted the 2021-23 budget, revenues have now exceeded expectations by $10.5 billion.

In addition to the increased revenue expected, the forecast found that Washington is projected to outperform the national economy in both employment and personal income growth for 2022-2025, and retail and real estate sales remain strong. While much of the forecast was positive the revenue review also reported that inflation, oil prices and interest rates are higher than the last review in November, and the Federal Reserve is assumed to start raising interest rates in March.

Additional details can be found here.

Lawmakers will use the latest revenue projections to finalize their 2022 supplemental budgets, which will make adjustments to the 2021-23 budget that was enacted last year. Budget writers are expected to release their proposed supplemental operating and transportation budgets today.

Senate Releases Proposed Supplemental Capital Budget

Last week, the Senate released their Proposed Supplemental Capital Budget (PSSB 5651). This is the first supplemental budget proposal to be released from either chamber. The proposal spends $94.8 million in available bond capacity, $561.6 million in ARPA State Fiscal Recovery Funds balance, and $290.3 million for the initial available IIJA grants. The largest proposed investments from all three resources are in the areas of:

  • Housing ($472 million)
  • Broadband ($120 million)
  • Water ($327 million)
  • School Seismic Safety ($115 million)

Of particular interest to the agricultural community, the proposed budget includes $3 million for the Voluntary Stewardship Program, and $2 million for the Farmland Protection and Land Access Grant program, providing farmland conservation easements to protect farms from development and make them more affordable to underserved and first-time farmers and ranchers. The budget also includes funds intended to address supply chain challenges and the inflammatory cost of materials, including $39.5 million for the Office of Financial Management to provide relief to projects that are actively in construction and $5 million for the Department of Commerce to provide relief to local and community projects and community relief projects.

A summary of the Senate Proposed Capital Budget can be found here.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the Supplemental Capital Budget last week and is set to hear the soon-to-be-released Proposed Supplemental Operating Budget on Monday. The House is rumored to release their Proposed Supplemental Capital and Operating Budgets today.

Senate Passes Legislation to Address Governor’s Emergency Powers

For almost two years, there has been significant debate on limiting the scope of Washington’s broad gubernatorial emergency powers. Republicans have introduced dozens of bills to put a check on executive authority, but for the most part, those proposals have not gained traction with only one even getting a hearing. Last week saw the passage of a Democrat proposal in the Senate to deal with the governor’s emergency powers.

Under current law, the Legislature has no authority to terminate a declared state of emergency, but the four legislative leaders can choose not to extend some emergency orders by the governor, such as waiving open public meetings laws. Senate Bill 5909, introduced by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), would give the four legislative leaders (the majority and minority leaders in the Senate and House) the authority to cancel a state of emergency after 90 days have passed if the Legislature is not in session. However, all four legislative leaders would have to agree.

The bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 29-20, mostly on a party-line vote with only a couple Republicans voting for the bill. Republicans voting against the bill argued it did not go far enough to rein in executive authority and basically results in the status quo. SB 5909 will now proceed to the House for consideration. While it is unclear if Gov. Inslee would sign the legislation if it passes the House, a spokesman for the governor was quoted as saying that the legislation would not change in any way the Governor’s emergency orders.

Gov. Inslee Announces End Date for Mask Mandate

Last week, Gov. Inslee announced that the majority of Washington’s indoor masking requirements will end on March 21, 2022. Of note, the new lift on masking requirements does not apply to healthcare and medical facilities, long term care settings, transit, school buses and correctional facilities. A press release from the Governor’s Office can be found here.

Rep. Dolan Announces Retirement

This week, Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), announced she does not plan to seek reelection this fall. Rep. Dolan has served Washington’s 22nd Legislative District since 2016. Prior to her time in the legislature, Rep. Dolan worked as a policy director for former Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Following her retirement announcement, Rep. Dolan’s former seatmate, Beth Doglio, publicized her candidacy for the position. Doglio was previously elected to the 22nd District House seat in 2016, serving until 2021 when she gave up her seat for her unsuccessful run for the 10th Congressional District. Doglio is the founding executive director of Washington Conservation Voters. 

Legislative Staff Unionization Bill Dies After Cut Off

One of the bills drawing the most attention following the deadline to pass bills out of their chamber of origin came as a surprise to many. House Bill 1806, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), would have extended collective bargaining for legislative branch employees, allowing them to unionize. This has been a perennial issue within the legislature over the last few years. However, despite receiving co-sponsorship from the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus, the bill was never pulled from the Rules Committee, rendering it dead for the session.

The death of the bill saw significant backlash from Democratic staffers in both the House and the Senate. After working through the weekend and late into many evenings, 100 Democrat staffers called in sick last Wednesday in protest. Current and former legislative staff named issues of salary, overtime and workload as points of concern.

Notable Bills Heard in Committee last Week:

  • Net Ecological Gain (E2SHB 1117), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), would integrate salmon recovery planning into local comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act. As part of the new requirement, public projects must make considerations to achieve net ecological gain which is undefined in the legislation. Net ecological gain is a stricter standard than the current no-net loss standard in law. During Wednesday’s public hearing in the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee, several Agricultural groups raised concerns that any project funded with public money would be required to advance net ecological gain including voluntary stewardship. The bill is scheduled for executive action this week.
  • Aerial Imaging Technology (HB 1629), sponsored by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), directs the Department of Commerce to conduct a study evaluating a more cost-effective way to purchase cutting-edge aerial imagery in the state. The proposed study is intended to cover technology for state, local, special purpose district, and tribal government purposes. The bill lays out several topics that must be evaluated including: current use of technology, potential technological benefits, current estimated expenditures, and an assessment of current providers of imaging data.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave (2SSB 5649), sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D- Everett), addresses a number of the concerns that arose from the Paid Family and Medical Leave Program’s (PFML) recent announcement regarding their budget shortfall. The updated bill aims to increase transparency of the program in order to avoid further issues moving forward. The changes include creating a legislative task force, mandating new actuarial and reporting requirements for the program, and asking PFML applicants to disclose whether their leave is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was heard in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee on Friday.
  • Renaming the Commission on Pesticide Registration (SB 5653), by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), was heard in the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The bill moves to change the name of the Commission on Pesticide Registration to the Commission on Integrated Pest Management in order to align the name of the Commission with the work it is conducting.
  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Buildings (SSB 5722), sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), would build on the Clean Buildings Act to create new tiers of performance standards for buildings between 20,000-49,999 square feet, which would also include large multifamily buildings. The bill, as passed by the Senate, includes a number of changes not limited to the following: requiring the Department of Commerce include a small business impact statement within program rulemaking, removing rent cap requirements for building assistance fund incentives, and extending the state energy standard early adoption incentive program to tier 2 covered buildings.
  • Drought Preparedness (2SSB 5746), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), was heard in the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Friday. The bill 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.
  • Including Benton County for the Farm Internship Program (SB 5812), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), 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 Considered Dead after Feb. 15 Cutoff Deadline:

  • Conservation District Elections (SHB 1652) introduced by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), aimed to implement the recommendations from the Conservation Commission’s Joint Committee on Elections by lengthening the term of a conservation district supervisor, requiring conservation districts hold elections during the same month in odd numbered years and allowing a board of supervisors to opt into moving the district’s election to the general ballot. The bill was never brought up for a vote on the House floor because there was a proposed floor striker to incorporate House Bill 1910. House Bill 1910 would have required all conservation district elections to be placed on the general ballot which would have been expensive and diverted money away from conservation programs. HB 1910 was strongly opposed by conservation districts across the state except for King County.
  • Targeted Electrification (HB 1767) sponsored by Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham), would have provided explicit authority for municipally owned utilities and public utility districts to run incentives programs (i.e. offer rebates) to switch customers from natural gas to electric space and water hearing. This was one of the suite of bills brought by Gov. Inslee on building decarbonization.
  • Adding Counties to the Voluntary Stewardship Program (HB 1856), sponsored by Rep. Kelly Chambers (R-Puyallup), would have given counties a second chance to join the Voluntary Stewardship Program by changing the date to join the Voluntary Stewardship Program under the GMA from January 2012 to July 2023. To date, 27 of the Washington’s 39 counties have joined the program. Under the program, counties are required to maintain riparian habitat, without requiring farmers to give up land.
  • Pesticide Advisory Board (SHB 1993), sponsored by Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) would have established a permanent Pesticide Advisory Board. The Washington State Department of Agriculture had previously convened a Pesticide Advisory Board to counsel the Department on pesticide-related actions, however the Board was eliminated in 2010. Rep. Dent’s proposal laid out 18 voting board members appointed by the Director of the Department of Agriculture with clear directives on representation.
  • Riparian Stock Watering Rights (SSB 5882), sponsored by Sen. Ron Muzzall (R-Oak Harbor), would have clarified the right of farmers and ranchers to access surface water for their livestock. Ecology has allowed this practice of off-stream watering for 30 years but announced it was reconsidering this policy last fall.