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Legislative updated from WRPA Lobbyist

After a couple weeks of Floor action, the Legislature spent Week 10 focused on committee hearings and policy bills.  At this point of Session, committees are hearing “opposite chamber” bills – meaning ‘alive’ Senate bills are in front of the House and surviving House bills try to avoid ‘dying’ as they wind through the Senate.

And who better to bring a living-and-dying theme to life than a bunch of zombies? They were in Olympia last Tuesday, courtesy of a filming on the Capital campus by the cast and crew of the show “Z Nation.”  Characters in full zombie costumes filmed the show and simultaneously promoted film industry tax incentives that will be before the Senate Ways & Means Committee this coming Wednesday (Senate Bill 6027).

Back in the land of the living, we are coming up on April 1 (no fooling) and April 7 deadlines for policy and fiscal committees on these opposite-chamber bills.  But before that, we will see the unveiling of House operating and capital budgets.  Up until the end of Week 10 we expected the House rollout date to be Monday, March 30; there is now a chance it could be Friday, March 27.  The House budget is expected to include as much as $1.5 billion in new revenue sources, including bringing the B&O tax rate back up to .018 percent (it is at .015 now), instituting a capital gains tax, and establishing some type of carbon pollution charges to be proposed by House Appropriations Chair Ross Hunter (D-Medina/48th Dist.).  The House Capital Budget likely will roll out the same day.

The House-Senate showdown on budgets is already shaping up, as the Senate prepares to introduce budgets without new revenues.  Additionally, Senate budget leaders are contending the House budget will not be a “complete budget” unless House leaders show they can not only introduce new tax-revenue proposals, but assemble the necessary 50 votes to pass them.  House leaders will have a different take on all this, of course.  For a glimpse into the Senate perspective, here’s a look at a “Windows into the Budget” piece by Senate Ways & Means Chair Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.), entitled “Unbalanced Budgets don’t’ count.”  Senate Majority Coalition Members are widely referring to and linking it in e-newsletters to their constituents.

Needless to say, the budgets will be a dominant issue over the new few weeks, and we’ll make sure to keep you up to date as everything progresses.

It was a very good Week 10 for us at WRPA, as legislative committees scheduled hearings on our priority bills on outdoor recreation and transportation and sales tax simplification.  Unfortunately, we do have legislation to mandate the deferral of Growth Management Act (GMA) impact fees continuing to advance. Following is an overview of where we stand on 2015 WRPA “Top Priority” and “Support” items, and a bullet-style rundown on a few others.  There are some Week 11 hearings listed at the bottom of this report (Pg. 6).
Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  Not much new to report.  The House will be the “high water mark” and may be looking at $80 million as a funding level.  We are not hearing specific funding levels from the Senate.  We had joined WWRC in pushing for $97 million for the program, while the Governor initiated the discussion with a 2015-17 Capital Budget level of $70 million.

HB 1550 - Department of Revenue (DOR) request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Ways & Means Committee will hold a hearing on 1550.  I want to pass along my thanks to Redmond Parks Director Craig Larsen for agreeing to send Recreation Manager Mark Hickok down to Olympia to join me in testifying for this bill.  One of Redmond’s two state Senators, Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.), chairs the Committee.   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):  Not much new to report.  As I have shared previously, the Senate appears prepared to provide $6 million for the YAF in its 2015-17 Capital Budget.  That said, the Senate’s Capital Budget Chair, Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.), wants to put some type of conditional language with the funding.  Sen. Honeyford does not want to see jurisdictions receive YAF grants and then place new fees, or inordinately high fees, on youth non-profit groups that may well have a significant number of low- and lower-income participants.  We have forwarded three language options to the Senator’s Ways & Means staff coordinator and we are awaiting word back.

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  The House Environment Committee has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. hearing today (Monday) on ESSB 5843 regarding outdoor recreation.  We expect the two bill sponsors, Sens. Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.), to testify in strong support.  5843 includes two key recommendations that came out of a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation but were 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.  I will be part of a panel joining the Senators in strong support of 5843.  Funding for these two items will be subject to the budget process.

On 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 met last Thursday with Rep. Tharinger and he is looking at a couple of revenue proposals – one involving new revenue and one involving re-directed Watercraft Excise Tax money from the General Fund -- to help provide $23 million in additional funds for State Parks.  I will be meeting today with Daniel Farber of State Parks to discuss this concept further.
  • Real Estate Excise Tax Flexibility:  See below.   
  • “Marine Tourism Bill” – SB 5878/HB 1681:  This legislation, chiefly promoted by the Northwest Marine Trade Association and supported by recreational boaters, would extend the number of months that large, LLC-designated boaters could spend in Washington State waters before being subject to use tax.  The House bill is up for a Tuesday hearing in House Finance while the Senate measure will be heard Wednesday in Ways & Means.
  • “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  SHB 1738 had a hearing last Monday 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 due to bonding obligations on the transferred funds.
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