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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist

The Legislature made itself “special” in Week 15 – just not in the way most of us think of that term.

Bowing to the inevitable, legislative leaders and the Governor agreed last week on a 30-day Special Session that is to commence Wednesday (April 29).  The Governor and legislative leaders concluded there was simply no way to negotiate final budgets by the scheduled April 26 “Sine Die” that marks the end of the Regular Session.  Nor was there a way to negotiate a final capital budget.  Or school funding and school levy reforms.  Or a final transportation package.  Or a final marijuana regulation and revenue-sharing bill.  And so on.

As we prep for the Special Session, here is an article of interest from the Everett Herald that does a nice job listing several of the items in play:

Looking back at the Regular Session which just drew to a close, it is worth noting that lawmakers did achieve some important things.  Bills to further regulate oil trains, “harmonize” the medical and Initiative 502 marijuana systems, and strengthen tools to diagnose (and hopefully prevent) landslide risks, are all either signed into law or delivered to the Governor.    All told, by the time Special Session begins, the Governor will have signed 125 bills into law (a couple include partial vetoes) – 68 Senate bills and 57 House measures.

From a WRPA perspective, we, too, can say some important milestones have been achieved – albeit with several outstanding issues awaiting the outcome of the Special Session.  Still, it is extremely encouraging to have the Legislature pass and ship to the Governor our priority bills to simplify the sales tax on amusement and recreation services, and to establish a new outdoor recreation sector lead in the Executive Branch for the first time ever. 

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.  Before I get into that, however, I should note that this completes the Weekly Reports for the 2015 Regular Session.  I will obviously keep you up to speed on developments in the extra session, and do one last weekly report once Special Session is complete.  Then, after all Sessions are wrapped up and bill signings are done, you will receive the usual comprehensive report on the 2015 Session(s).

Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  We are in a holding pattern on this one pending Senate-House negotiations on the 2015-17 Capital Budget (EHB 1115).  On a positive note, the Senate provides over $68 million in funding for the WWRP and makes an unprecedented commitment to funding several-dozen “over-subscribed” local parks, trails, and water access projects.  Of concern, as previously discussed and reported upon, is that the Senate budget changes the rules for a series of WWRP projects which already went through a very thorough ranking and prioritizing process.  Many state natural resource agency acquisition projects that had qualified for WWRP funding were zeroed out, while some others were funded in different parts of the Capital Budget.  The House Capital Budget is cleaner, providing $75 million in WWRP funding and using the prioritized and ranked lists of state and local projects across all categories.  However the WWRP issue is resolved between the Senate and the House, we believe there is a good chance that the program will be re-evaluated over the interim – either formally or informally.

HB 1550 - DOR request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  Last Wednesday, acting on their final bill of the day, Senators receded from an earlier Committee Amendment to 1550 after the House “refused to concur” with it.  The Senate then passed the underlying HB 1550 on a 38-9 vote.  This bill, delivered to the Governor last Friday, creates a clear statutory guideline for which recreation activities, leagues, and lessons should or should not be subject to sales tax.  President Carrie Hite and myself already have co-signed and sent a letter to the Governor’s Office urging that 1550 be signed into law.  A shout-out, too, to Olympia Parks and Recreation Director Paul Simmons for sending a single-city “sign it” letter as well.

Re-establish competitive grant funding for the Youth Athletic Facilities (YAF) program (Capital Budget):  Here is another issue that must await Senate-House Capital Budget negotiations.  The Senate’s Capital Budget includes a YAF funding level of $10 million, with $7 million set aside for competitive grant funding and $3 million earmarked for two specific projects.  Our thanks to Senate Ways & Means Capital Chair Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.) for his efforts.  The House Capital Budget matches the Governor’s $3 million proposal for YAF.  As an added note, we in WRPA have decided we can live with the Sec. 3170 portion of the Senate Capital Budget conditioning YAF grants as follows:

The appropriation is provided solely for grants for acquisition, development or renovation of youth athletic fields. The recreation conservation office must require grant recipients of youth recreation field grants to have a fee waiver policy for youth athletic clubs who use the fields acquired, developed or renovation with funds from this appropriation. The fee waiver policy must discount or waive fees based on the youth athletic club's rates charged and scholarships provided to low-income athletes compared to other clubs using the fields.

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation – ESSB 5843 (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  Last Wednesday, by a vote of 38-9, the Senate concurred with House amendments to 5843.  The bill was formally delivered to the Governor last Friday.  The House amendments to 5843 attach performance metrics to the new outdoor recreation sector position, and remove a Senate provision that the person taking on this role be confirmed by the Senate.  Assuming 5843 is signed into law – and we expect that to happen at an outdoor location – it will mark the first time the state has had an unabashed advocate for focusing on and growing the outdoor recreation sector inside the Governor’s Office.  5843 also amends the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) program to ensure that some of its grants cater to programs that utilize veterans.  Importantly, the Senate Operating Budget includes $1.331 million both to fund the outdoor recreation sector position and to re-ignite competitive grant funding for the NCLI.  We will work to ensure that funding is in the final 2015-17 Operating Budget.

We thank both our prime sponsor (Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and our co-sponsor (Sen. Linda Parlette, R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.) for their tireless work and leadership on 5843.

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

  • Sustainable State Parks Funding:  And now we wait.  This is another issue that will only be resolved when the Senate and House resolve their differences on the 2015-17 Operating Budget.  There is a major chasm for State Parks Operating needs between the Senate budget ($15 million in state support) and the House budget ($39 million, the same level as the Governor’s proposal).   
  • “Marine Tourism Bill” – HB 1681/SB 5878:  This legislation is very much “in play” as the Special Session beckons.  The Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA), which is leading the lobbying effort on these bills, has received positive signals from the House Finance Chair (Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle/36th Dist.) regarding 1681.   5878, meanwhile, remains alive since it is referenced in the Senate’s budget.  The key provision of both bill is to extend to six months the amount of time large, LLC-designated boats could spend in state waters before being subject to use tax.  The House bill sets up a fee-based permit that would have to be purchased by the large vessels before they could qualify for the 6-month stay.  The Senate bill does not, but it limits the number of qualifying vessels to 20.
  • “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accounts:  As reported last week, SHB 1738 is “dead” for the 2015 Session, but likely to be taken up again in 2016.  1738, prime sponsored by Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama/20th Dist.), included a future-year removal – in the year 2031 -- of a 23-cent ‘lid’ that has resulted in the percentage allocations of 14 ½ cents worth of gas tax going into the Motor Vehicle Fund rather than into the dedicated accounts for boating facilities, off-road vehicles (“NOVA” account), and snowmobiling.  The Senate was wary of passing a bill targeting a specific year, preferring a formal process with the State Treasurer to pinpoint the best future date for action.

Support Items

Making permanent the optional authority for cities and counties to use “REET” proceeds for Parks M&O, and ‘harmonizing’ the first and second quarter percent REET – HB 2122; SSB 5585:  These bills “died.” 2122 would have continued to provide some flexibility for cities and counties in the use of their REET proceeds – though not the amount cities and counties ideally preferred.  

Advocate for key “Safe and Healthy Communities” needs, local funding, and “lid removal” in any Transportation Investment Package worked on in 2015 (New Revenue):  Negotiations are underway regarding the Senate-passed transportation revenue-and-reform package (ESSB 5987/ESSB 5988), and the House Committee-passed version that includes “Striking Amendments” to 5987/5988.   Both 16-year packages are financed with a combination of an 11.7-cent gas tax (phased in over three years), bonding, and fee increases.  There are major differences in how the packages approach the Governor’s desire to implement a “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” (Senate would remove multi-modal funding from the package if that happens), whether they re-direct sales tax (Senate yes, House no), and whether they incorporate a 20-percent cost savings estimate based on “practical design” of projects (House yes, Senate no).  Here’s a comparison of how the 16-year revenue packages treat our priority items: 

1) Bicycle and pedestrian funding and Safe Routes to Schools – House $131 million, Senate $106 million;

2) Direct funding distributions for cities and counties – House $433 million based off of gas-tax distributions, with a 50/50 split in distributions to cities and counties.  Senate $375 million based off of multi-modal distributions, with a 67 percent split to counties and 33 percent to cities;

3) Local financing options for cities and counties – the House allows City Councils and County Councils with adopted Transportation Benefit Districts (TBDs) to impose up to a $50 Vehicle License Fee as one of the TBD financing mechanisms – provided they have used the current $20 for at least two years.  The Senate does the same, except the $20 maximum is adjusted up to $40;

4) “Complete Streets” – Both packages provide $160 million in grants over 16 years.  House package directs the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) to administer the program; and

5) Both packages deposit the proper percentage of the 11.7 cents in new gas tax into dedicated accounts for the Boating Facilities Program, Non-Highway Off-Road Vehicle Account (NOVA), and snowmobiling ($3.584 million in Boating Facilities Program added funds in 2015-17, and $1.399 million for NOVA). 

6) The House, in Sections 101-103 of its 5988 spending bill, front-loads the appropriations for these three accounts so the money can be applied right away to construction projects.  We are told by Senate staff that they are very likely to accept this provision

Support general-obligation bonds to restore a prior-year diversion of funds from the Recreation Resource Account (RRA) (Capital Budget): Neither the House Capital Budget nor the Senate Capital Budget allocates a one-time, $3.3 million addition of general obligation bonds to restore funding previously diverted from the Recreation Resource Account (RRA).  However, as noted above, the House’s gas-tax package has the effect of creating $3.584 million in additional revenue that can be applied to projects this year.  Our thanks to House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.) for doing this.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  The House Capital Budget funds the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA) at $9.5 million.  The Senate Capital Budget funds ALEA at $5.27 million.  We prefer the House approach, but are pleased that both budgets exceed the ALEA proposal from the Governor.  The Governor’s capital budget proposal diverted $7 million worth of ALEA funds into the Operating Budget, and then backfilled only about half of the diversion.  

Easing property tax ‘suppression’ pressures on MPDs/Parks Districts: (Policy bill):  There was no bill on this front.  Park District property tax rates are not adversely impacted by a related bill – SHB 1940 – which, as amended in the Senate, provides protection until Jan. 1, 2023 against property tax levy “suppression” for the King County Flood Control Zone District and the Chehalis River Basin.  SHB 1940 passed the Legislature and has been delivered to the Governor.

Amend the Public Records Act to protect the identities of immediate family members and guardians of children who enroll in parks and recreation programs (Policy bill):  Last Wednesday, the Governor signed HB 1554 into law.  Rep. Melanie Stambaugh (R-Puyallup/25th Dist.) prime-sponsored this legislation for her City of Fife folks. It will be the first bill of her signed into law.

 “Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition (Budget & Policy Items):  As I previously reported, the distribution list we keep for the Big Tent was used effectively to help generate the names and logos of 28 organizations for a “Please Pass ESSB 5843” letter to Speaker Frank Chopp, and 33 names and logos of organizations for a letter to Operating Budget negotiators on State Parks funding.  Good stuff!

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