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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist

The Friday rollouts of House Operating and Capital Budgets for 2015-17 – as well as a jam-packed House hearing on transportation revenue the day prior to that – hogged the Week 11 spotlight and set the stage for intense negotiations that will dominate the agenda down the homestretch of the 2015 Session.

We will see policy committees run up against deadlines this Wednesday for opposite-chamber bills to either “live” or “die” – with an April 7 deadline on the horizon for fiscal committees.  Also on Wednesday, we expect to see the unveiling of the Senate’s no-new-taxes approach to the Operating Budget.

I’ve provided comprehensive memos that give a lay of the land on the Operating and Capital Budget fronts as well as next steps on the transportation package.  The Operating Budget introduced Friday stands up well to the “do no harm” test and provide some potential revenue benefits for local governments.  The Capital Budget provides some significant infrastructure investment benefits for parks and recreation.  

This coming Wednesday, it is possible the Senate’s Operating Budget may include a few ‘hits’ on local government state-shared revenues and the Public Works Assistance Account.  In terms of the Senate’s capital budget, we hear it will either come out late in Week 12 or possibly early in Week 13.  We shall see.
Looking at Week 11 through a WRPA lens, it was fairly positive, though we did not get the Youth Athletic Facilities (YAF) grant funding level we had hoped for.  That said, there was pretty good news in the budgets for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA), and our sales tax simplification bill on amusement, recreation services, and physical fitness services.

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.  Some Week 12 hearings are listed at the bottom of this report (Pg. 5-6).

Top Priorities
Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  The House Capital Budget introduced Friday funds WWRP at $75 million, above the Governor’s mark ($70 million) albeit less than the $80 million we heard about.  Still, the House will be the WWRP “high water mark” and there appears to be no way the program will approach the $97 million funding level first sought by advocates (including us).  There appears to be a growing likelihood that the Senate may break the WWRP program apart in some way through its budget, funding mostly local parks and trails projects but not state agency land acquisitions or habitat/riparian projects.  That might be appealing to us on some emotional levels, but of course we have been strong supporters of maintaining the integrity of the WWRP.  I am scheduling a Legislative Committee conference call in the next couple of days to discuss all of this and receive further direction from all of you.

HB 1550 - DOR request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  Last Wednesday, Olympia Parks and Recreation Director Paul Simmons and Redmond Recreation Manager Mark Hickok joined me in testifying for this WRPA priority bill.  Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.), chair of the Ways & Means Committee, sponsored a very similar bill in 2014.  The Department of Revenue (DOR) indicates HB 1550 is funded in the House Operating Budget unveiled Friday, which is very good news.  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):  While we had hopes of a $6 million funding level, the House Capital Budget trotted out Friday would fund the YAF at $3 million, the same level as proposed in the Governor’s budget.  As I have shared previously, the Senate appears prepared to provide $6 million for the YAF in its 2015-17 Capital Budget.  The Senate’s Capital Budget Chair, Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.), will include 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 forwarded three language options to the Senator’s Ways & Means staff coordinator and await 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. “Executive Session” today to advance ESSB 5843 regarding outdoor recreation.  The two bill sponsors, Sens. Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.), testified in strong support of the legislation last Monday, as did we.  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.  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:  State Parks officials were a bit discouraged by the House Operating and Capital Budgets that came out Friday.  The Operating Budget comes close to matching the funding level put forth by the Governor ($136 million in General Fund, litter tax revenues, and fee-for-service earnings through Discover Pass et al), but does not include any of the funding enhancement ideas that Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Dungeness/24th Dist.) had worked on.  Meanwhile, the Capital Budget funding level for Parks, $55 million, is significantly below the funding level they saw in the Governor’s proposed budget.  This is step one in a lengthy budget process and we will be prepared to support State Parks in their efforts to ‘plus up’ their funding levels.
•       “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.  Both the House and Senate bills had hearings last week.  The House bill is not reflected in the Operating Budget introduced Friday by the House, but boating interests have hopes of seeing their tax-incentive bill included in the Senate budget.
•       “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  I will be part of a meeting this morning with Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima/14th Dist.) regarding SHB 1738.  While this bill is poised to clear Senate Transportation, Chairman King has a proposed amendment to it that delays the implementation date agreed to in the House.  1738 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 – the year 2031 -- 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.  While Rep. Orcutt’s bill targets a specific year, the King amendment establishes more of a process of determining the specific year for ‘fixing’ the 14 ½-cent diversion.

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