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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist

The Week 12 story in the Legislature could be summed up as, “It’s all about the money.”  From Tuesday through Thursday and even into the wee hours of Friday morning, there were spirited Committee and Floor debates over funding-policy choices in the dueling Senate and House Operating Budgets for 2015-17.

We also received a slimmed-down picture last week of which bills survived the thicket of policy committees, as an April 1 cutoff deadline came and went.  This Tuesday is another important deadline, looming for any bill that has fiscal implications and is not directly tied to implementing the respective budgets.  Beginning Wednesday, the remainder of the 2015 Regular Session will be all about the budgets, Floor action, Rules Committees, and the down-the-homestretch reconciling of bills that passed both chambers.

You’ll note that I referred above to the remainder of the “Regular Session.”  I am doubtful that the end of the Regular Session means ‘THE end’ for the 2015 Legislature.  In fact, given the ticking clock and the stark differences in the House and Senate budgets, I join many of my colleagues in seeing a Special Session as an extremely strong possibility, perhaps even an inevitability.

The week ahead will bring us a bit of a preview of how the House Transportation Committee will deal with transportation revenue-and-reform bills, and reveal the Senate’s approach to a 2015-17 Capital Budget.

For WRPA, it was a good news/bad news Week 12.  There was good news in the continued progress of ESSB 5843 on outdoor recreation, and full funding for the legislation in the Senate Operating Budget brought out last week.  Additionally, another one of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation bills, the so-called “Marine Tourism Bill” (SB 5878) advanced forward.  Disappointingly, however, the Senate Operating Budget for State Parks was a very tough one.  And in-between the good news and the bad, a number of issues had “run in place” weeks as we continue to await the Senate’s Capital Budget and the House’s revision to the transportation revenue-and-reform bills.

A final – and very important – note concerns the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP).  We won’t see this in black and white until the coming week, but we do have it confirmed that the Senate’s version of WWRP will look very different from the House’s, and pull state acquisition projects off the list.  See more below under the “Top Priorities/Enhance WWRP funding” item below.

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 bills scheduled for Week 13 hearings and Executive Action are listed at the bottom of this report (Pg. 6).


Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  The House Capital Budget (EHB 1115) passed off the Floor last Thursday on a vote of 96-2.  It funds the WWRP at $75 million, slightly above the Governor’s mark ($70 million).  We are hearing the Senate allocation for WWRP will be $67 million, but with a major twist:  My understanding is the Senate will still call the program “WWRP” in its budget due out this coming week, and it will go down the list of prioritized project.  However, state acquisition projects (and perhaps local as well – still trying to determine) and many local parks, trails, and water access projects below the line will be funded as a result.  While this may be tempting on its face for a local parks and recreation organization to gush about this proposal, the direction I received from a WRPA Legislative Conference Committee call last Wednesday does not call for an open embrace of it.  Instead, I will be testifying with a deep appreciation for the Senate’s commitment to local parks funding, but also with an emphasis on being troubled by having the WWRP statute broken apart and veered away from mid-stream.  I will finish my testimony by acknowledging that the status quo on WWRP is no longer possible and we agree that in the interim, there should be a formal process for re-evaluating the program and making necessary changes to it.  If any of you are seeing this for the first time and have concerns about the basic direction, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

HB 1550 - DOR request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  We expect this bill to clear the Senate Ways & Means Committee either this coming Monday or Tuesday.  Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.), chair of the Ways & Means Committee, sponsored a very similar bill in 2014 and has told us he will move the bill.  HB 1550 is funded in the House Operating Budget, 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 the House Capital Budget funds the YAF at $3 million (the same level as the Governor’s budget), we are being told it very likely will be funded at $6 million in the Senate’s budget.  As I have shared previously, 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.  One final note on YAF is that I have asked the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition to work with us on pushing for a $6 million allocation, especially since we are standing with the WWRC in their hour of need.  I am in front of the WWRC’s Policy Committee on Monday at noon and will let you all know how that goes.

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation – ESSB 5843 (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  The House General Government & Information Technology Committee has scheduled an 8 a.m. Monday “Executive Session” on 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 Thursday morning, three days after the bill passed out of the House Environment Committee on a 6-4 vote.  Also last week, the Senate’s initial Operating Budget proposal included $331,000 for the Outdoor Recreation sector lead part of 5843, but not the $1 million in funding for the No Child Left Inside program.  However, a day after we testified in support of the additional funding, Senate Ways & Means Chair Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th DIst.) inserted the $1 million in a Committee Amendment last Wednesday night.  It has most certainly been a whirlwind week for this bill!  We are strong supporters of 5843, which establishes an outdoor recreation sector lead within the Governor’s office and re-establishes funding for the “No Child Left Inside” (NCLI) program.

On other Task Force recommendations in the Governor’s Budget or introduced as bills or budget items:

  • Sustainable State Parks Funding:  It’s been a very tough week for State Parks in the opening rounds of the budget process.  The Senate Operating Budget rolled out last Tuesday provides about $15 million in state support to go with $95 million in Discover Pass and fee-for-service income for the Agency.  That’s a far cry from the approximately $134 million in the budgets put out by Governor Inslee and the House.  Additionally, the House Capital Budget has a much lower level of Capital funding for State Parks ($57 million) than the $91 million in the Governor’s budget.  We’re going to
  • Real Estate Excise Tax Flexibility:  As reported, these bills are likely “dead” for Session.  Proponents have hopes of resurrecting 2122 if lawmakers go into Special Session.  This bill would have continued to provide some flexibility for cities and counties in the use of their REET proceeds – but not the amount cities and counties ideally preferred.    
  • “Marine Tourism Bill” – SB 5878:  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.  5878 is included in the Senate Operating Budget released last Tuesday, and the bill passed out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee last Wednesday night.  The House budget does not include the House version of the “Marine Tourism Bill,” HB 1681.  This issue will be one of many areas of disagreement for the upcoming House-Senate budget negotiations.

“Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  We expect the Senate Transportation Committee to approve a revised version of SHB 1738 on Tuesday, via an amendment by Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima/14th Dist.)Chairman King’s amendment subjects the replacement of non-highway fuel tax refunds of 14 ½ cents to a process with input from the Treasurer’s Office.  That is a very different approach from that of the House.  1738 prime sponsor Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama/20th Dist.), the House Transportation Ranking Member 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.  It will be a challenge to reconcile these two bills/two approaches.    

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