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Legislative updated from WRPA Lobbyist

Lawmakers passed through their first major Floor cutoff in Week 9 and narrowed the list of active bills in play.  Legislators also passed the halfway point of the 2015 Session, with many of them flocking home to their Districts to hold weekend Town Hall meetings and hear from home-turf constituents and organizations.
We’re now moving closer to the time when the House will unveil its first Operating and Capital budgets for 2015-17.  The best information we have at this point is that a House Operating Budget rollout will be on Monday, March 30, or within days thereafter.

While we have our own perspective on the key bills and issues, I thought you might find it interesting to see how others viewed the first cutoff.  Linked below to go along with this report is an Associated Press story detailing some of the “alive” and “dead” bills from a ‘how it affects the general public’ vantage point. Read More here.

It was a pretty decent Week 9 for us at WRPA, as bills on outdoor recreation and non-highway fuel tax refunds passed off the Senate and House floors, as did a Public Records Act bill we support.  On the other hand, legislation to flex up Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funds is in trouble, and legislation to mandate the deferral of Growth Management Act (GMA) impact fees is on the House hearing calendar.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2015 WRPA “Top Priority” and “Support” items, and a bullet-style rundown on a few other bills.  There are some Week 10 hearings listed at the bottom of this report.

Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  Not much new to report.  As I shared in last week’s report, we are getting signals that the House may be looking at $80 million as a funding level.  We are not hearing specific funding levels from the Senate, but we do know a number of Senators are raising loud concerns about WWRP land acquisition funding going to state resource agencies.  We’ve joined the WWRC in pushing for $97 million for the program, and the Governor started the legislative process by sending over a 2015-17 Capital Budget with a $70 million funding level.

HB 1550 - Department of Revenue (DOR) request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  Last Friday, I spoke with Senate Ways & Means Chairman Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.) regarding 1550.  It was a very brief but very positive conversation about this bill, which is pending in Ways & Means.  To give you a sense, 1550 is quite similar to ESSB 6472, which Senator Hill sponsored in 2014 and which the Senate passed in 2014.   HB 1550 simplifies sales taxation of “amusement and recreation services” and reduces the administrative tax collection burden associated with these services.  The DOR legislation 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 Friday, I also met with Senate Ways & Means staff to see if there was any word back regarding three different options we shared with the Capital Budget Chair, Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.), on conditioning YAF funding in the 2015-17 Capital Budget.  I don’t have any new information on Senator Honeyford’s decision on language.  On the good-news side, the Senator appears prepared to provide $6 million for the YAF in his 2015-17 Capital Budget.  That said, he does not want to see jurisdictions receive YAF grants and then place new fees, or what he believes to be inordinate fees, on youth non-profit groups that may well have a significant number of low- and lower-income participants.  We tried very hard to forward options to Senator Honeyford that were not overly prescriptive and that did not undermine your ability to charge particular hourly rates, or rental fees, or special tournament fees.  I’ll let you know as soon as I do!

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  Last Wednesday, about 90 minutes before the cutoff deadline, the Senate approved ESSB 5843 by a vote of 46-3. Our thanks to bill sponsors Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.) for their great work on this one.  5843 would re-ignite two key Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation 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 adopted two Floor Amendments, one of which would more specifically direct the sector lead to focus on economic development and job creation work related to outdoor recreation, and one of which subjects the new sector lead to Senate confirmation.  5843 had allocated $1.3 million for the two items ($1 million NCLI, $300,000 sector lead), though that funding was stripped in the Ways & Means Committee and is now subject to the budget process.
As for other Task Force recommendations in the Governor’s Budget or introduced as bills or budget items:
  • Sustainable State Parks Funding:  Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Dungeness/24th Dist.) is taking a lead role on putting together a State Parks funding and outdoor recreation funding budget proposal in the House.  I will be meeting with Rep. Tharinger later this week and will have more details to report next week.  State Parks is looking for about $23.3 million more than the $136 million in 2015-17 Operating funds for Parks in the Governor’s budget.
  • Real Estate Excise Tax Flexibility:  See below.
  • “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  SHB 1738 passed unanimously off the House Floor on March 9 and had a very positive hearing today (March 16) in the Senate Transportation Committee.  The bill is sponsored by House Transportation Ranking Member Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama/20th Dist.) and co-sponsored by Chairwoman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.).  1738 includes 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 legislation targets the year 2031 to fix this issue – the out-year fix is due to bonding obligations on the transferred funds.
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