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Legislative Update from the WRPA Lobbyist

Doug Levy – 2/8/15

Breaking News on Transportation:  I start this report with an encouraging note, having been in contact Friday with key Senators, Senate staff, and Caucus staff involved in all of this.  I can confirm that Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Members and Senate Democrats are very close (“we’re this close,” said one Member, holding his thumb and forefinger a few centimeters apart) to arriving at a deal on a transportation revenue package.  It is hoped that a formal deal could be announced this coming week, though I’m not being provided with a specific day.  What I am gleaning from discussions is that: 

  • There may be a middle ground on gas tax levels, where we thought the Senate MCC’s high-water mark was 11.5 cents while Senate Democrats were interested in pushing the number as high as 14 cents;
  • The negotiated level for transit and “multi-modal” funding categories may be trending a bit toward Senate Democrats, who sought a $750 million amount over a 16-year period for things such as transit operating and capital money, Safe Routes to Schools, “Complete Streets,” etc.; and
  • In exchange for some movement on gas tax and multi-modal parts of a package, Senate Democrats would align with Senate MCC Members on some type of prohibition or other brake pedal on the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which Governor Jay Inslee has passionately pursued.

Obviously as I learn more in the coming days and things firm up, I will let you all know. 

The legislative debate over possible changes to the Initiative/Referendum process – a fascinating hearing in the Senate:  I’ve shared with all of you in prior weekly reports that, in part due to the significant legislative concerns triggered by Initiative 1351, a whole series of bills and proposed constitutional amendments are on the table in 2015.  One of the bills, SB 5375 by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Edmonds/21st Dist.), would place new registration and disclosure requirements on those who use paid signature gatherers.  Much more compelling than the bill was the Senate Government Operations Committee public hearing on it last Thursday.  The hearing featured exchanges between Committee Chair Pam Roach (R-Sumner/31st Dist.) and testifiers that included some of the most open commentary about money and politics any of us Olympia watchers can ever recall – in a government building no less.  I’m attaching two links – one of which includes a write-up on the hearing and a video link (go to Publicola “Morning Fizz” No. 1, if you click on the video link, start at about 31 minutes); one of which is a Seattle Times Sunday column referencing a few of the details:

http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/friday-likes-and-dislikes-february-2015

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2025642733_westneat08xml.html

For WRPA, it was an excellent Week 4.  Our priority sales tax (“league fees”) bill has been set for Executive Session action; we were able to testify in strong support of our $6 million “YAF” request; we are hearing positive vibes on WWRP funding; an outdoor recreation bill we strongly support hit the introduction sheets; and non-highway accounts funding REET flexibility bills we support were set for hearing.  Whew!  Of course, one ‘down side’ item is that a hearing has been scheduled on an impact fees bill we oppose.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2015 WRPA “Top Priority” and “Support” items, and then a bullet-style rundown on a few other bills.  A list of some Week 5 hearings is attached with recommendations on whether we should testify, sign in, or monitor bills in play.

 

Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  Two encouraging signs to pass along with respect to our $97 million funding level request:  1) we hear that House Capital Budget Chair Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish/44th Dist.) is working on a Capital Budget figure in excess of the $70 million level put forth by Governor Inslee; and 2) we understand House Capital Budget Committee staff has asked the RCO to show them the WWRP list and what would be funded at an $85 million level.  Two really great signals!

HB 1550 - Department of Revenue (DOR) request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  The House Finance Committee has scheduled a Tuesday “Executive Session” to advance this bill sponsored by Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle/36th Dist.) and Ranking Member Terry Nealey (R-Dayton/16th Dist.). 1550 simplifies sales taxation of “amusement and recreation services” and reduces the administrative tax collection burden associated with these services.  The DOR legislation is focused on tightly defining a small subset of enterprise-related and “entrepreneurial” services that would be subject to sales tax.  The bill would statutorily exempt swim lessons as well as basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball leagues.

Re-establish competitive grant funding for the Youth Athletic Facilities (YAF) program (Capital Budget):  Last Thursday I testified before the Senate Ways & Means Committee in support of our $6 million YAF request.  I’ve now drafted a formal $6 million request letter for our Executive Board to send to Senate and House Capital Budget Chairs, Ranking Members, and budget negotiators.   That letter was sent over the weekend for Executive Board review.

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  Last Thursday, SB 5843 hit the Senate introduction sheet.  The bill is prime-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.), Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe/39th Dist.), Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island/23rd Dist.), and five other Senators.  The bill resurrects two key Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations not advanced by Governor Inslee:  1) an outdoor recreation sector lead within the Governor’s office; and 2) re-established funding for the “No Child Left Inside” (NCLI) program.  The Senate bill, expected to be introduced this coming week, will seek $1.3 million for the two items ($1 million NCLI, $300,000 sector lead).  Here is a link to 5843, which has not yet been scheduled for a hearing:  http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5843.pdf

Meanwhile, with regard to these Task Force recommendations in the Governor’s Budget or introduced as bills:

  • Sustainable State Parks Funding:  We will support Operating Budget and fee-based funding to help State Parks stay sustainable and avoid Parks closures.  The Governor’s 2015-17 Operating Budget provides $136 million in support, compared to the State Parks Commission $159 million request.  Also, to update on one bill that provides State Parks a bit of new money through increased litter fines – HB 1160 passed out of the House Environment Committee last Monday and is due for a hearing this coming Tuesday in the House General Government and Information Technology Committee.
  • Real Estate Excise Tax Flexibility:  See below.
  • “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., the House Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on HB 1738 by the Committee’s Ranking Member Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama/20th Dist.) and Chairwoman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.).  The bill would build in a future-year removal of a ‘lid’ that has diverted the percentage allocation of 14 ½ cents of gas tax into the Motor Vehicle Fund rather than into the dedicated accounts for boating facilities, off-road vehicles (“NOVA” account), and snowmobiling.  The Senate companion to this legislation, SB 5617 by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake/13th Dist.), has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.  The legislation targets the year 2031 to fix this issue.  As we’ve reported, a future year must be used because the 14 ½ cent of diverted dollars are wrapped up into bonding of prior transportation packages.
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