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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist: 02/29/2016

A flurry of budgets emerged in the Legislature in Week 7, with the House and Senate staking out very different philosophical and political positions on both the Operating Budget (as usual) and the Capital Budget.

We’re now entering the two-week homestretch of this 60-day Session, with final Fiscal Committee and Floor cutoff deadlines for “opposite house” bills coming this Monday and Friday, respectively.  Local governments have run into the reality-check of very limited forward progress on key priority issues, and having to battle against backsliding in at least two of the three major budgets.

With the Senate now having passed 2016 Supplemental Operating (ESSB 6246) and Capital (ESSB 6201) budgets off the Floor, and the House having approved both 2016 Supplemental Operating (ESHB 2376) and Transportation (ESHB 2524) budgets, here is what we know about how the budgets stack up for local governments:

Operating Budget:  Both the Senate-passed and House-passed budgets protect current levels of “state-shared revenue” distributions such as liquor excise taxes, liquor profits, Streamlined Sales Tax mitigation, and Criminal Justice Assistance.  It’s also worth noting that both budgets provide new mental health and homelessness assistance funding.  The House, for example, includes about $49 million for mental health and $60 million for homelessness services.  However, the Senate’s Operating budget includes cuts to local governments that are not in the Houser version.  It would eliminate fire insurance premium tax funding to 44 cities by July 1, 2017; and eliminate Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC) funding by July 1, 2017.  Additionally, the Senate approved budget would have local agencies covering more of their Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) training costs, either 50 percent or 75 percent depending on the number of new hires they send through the Academy.  The House budget does not include any of these BLEA cost shifts, and in fact includes $677,000 in new funds to help assure two new Academy training classes.  The House budget significantly dips into rainy-day (“Budget Stabilization Account”) reserves and proposes the closing of several tax breaks and preferences.  The Senate budget is much more austere in the supplemental year and does not include tax-break closures or significant use of rainy-day monies.  Negotiations will be interesting.

Capital Budget:  There are two main differences between the House’s Capital Budget and the Senate’s:  1) the House would deal with a severe funding shortfall in Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) revenues by cutting back new toxic site cleanup expenditures; the Senate’s version of the budget contains some toxic site cleanup funding cuts, but puts a much heavier proportion of its reductions on stormwater projects;  2) the House includes $17.15 million in its budget for 49 local/community projects; the Senate puts $175,000 in its budget for two.  The House Capital Budget also includes some new Public Works Assistance Account loan funding ($8.615 million), $5 million for a homeless youth shelter competitive grant program, and $20.95 million for Community Behavioral Health beds.  The Senate’s Capital Budget includes $11.5 million for Community Behavioral Health Beds, and $7.5 million for housing for those with mental health needs.

Transportation Budget:  The negotiation of the final 2016 Supplemental Transportation Budget will be the least antagonistic, by far, of the three budget negotiations.  At this point, the main House-Senate differences are in the amount and the ‘color of money’ for Washington State Patrol trooper salary increases ($16.3 million House, $5 million Senate), and in how the chambers deal with phasing and biennium-by-biennium funding for bicycle/pedestrian and transit capital projects approved in the 2015 “Connecting Washington” package.  The House does a 16-year projection of funds; the Senate shows 2015-17 funding allocations and would give the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) flexibility to bring back future-biennium recommendations based on readiness of the various projects.

On a WRPA-specific front, Week 7 was actually a pretty calm one.  The Capital Budgets introduced by the Senate and House both keep dedicated outdoor recreation funds intact, and both expedite $4.85 million in funding for the Boating Facilities Program (BFP).  One of the Operating Budgets includes ongoing “Healthiest Next Generation” funding, while the other does not.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 WRPA priority and support issues, and then a bullet-style rundown of other issues impacting us.  A list of just a couple of Week 8 hearings is at the end of this report (Pg. 5).

WRPA Top Priorities

Support Updates/Refinements to WWRP While Preserving Structure, Integrity of Program (SSB 6227)

The House Capital Budget Committee did not act on SSB 6227 in Week 7, but has it scheduled to pass out of the Committee on Monday morning.  As previously reported, we expect some minor amendments to 6227 by the House, including a more limited “emergency clause” than the Senate bill.  For local parks and recreation, key pieces of the underlying bills include:  

Ø  A much-simplified allocation formula (“45/45/10”) that would put slightly more WWRP money into the local parks and trails categories;

Ø  A change to the acquisition vs. development formula for Local Parks that steers a bit more funding toward development projects (“no less than 40 percent” and “no more than 50 percent” for acquisition);

Ø  Direction that state agencies must show some of the same due diligence and consistency in their projects that we have to show in ours, and ‘confer’ with local communities;

Ø  Language that calls upon the Recreation and Conservation Office to determine methods of providing “under-served” communities with potential match reductions or waivers. 

Boating Facilities Program -- Appropriation in 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget

Yay!  Both the Senate and House Capital Budgets released last Wednesday mimic the Governor’s proposed $4.85 million allocation in the Fiscal Year 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget (ESSB 6201/SHB 2380) for the BFP.  As we have reported, this funding is not new money, but rather a proposal to expedite and put to use the first-year funding from the marine-fuel tax portion of the 11.9-cent gas tax that was in 2015’s “Connecting Washington” transportation package. 

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

Nothing new to report – this one will become an interim project.  SB 6384 has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative

The House-passed and Senate-passed Operating Budgets differ from one another on many fronts – and HNG is one of them.  In addition to $246,000 in underlying funding for HNG, ESHB 2376 approved by the House includes an additional $170,000 for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) “healthy schools/healthy kids” efforts tied to HNG, while the Department of Early Learning receives $94,000 for comprehensive health and nutrition services for young children in early-learning settings.  The Senate’s Operating Budget, ESSB 6246, does not include this funding.

WRPA Support/Oppose Items

Emerging Issue -- $250,000 Operating Budget proviso to study ways to better integrate state and recreational passes – and possibly to look to achieve single-pass systems:  With a successful Committee Amendment last Thursday night by Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.), this proviso is now in both the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget.  The proviso is in Section 303(3) of the House Operating Budget (ESHB 2376) and in Section 303(6) of the Senate Operating Budget (ESSB 6246).  Funding for the study will be drawn from existing Discover Pass revenues collected by State Parks, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Natural Resources.  One of the key passage of the proviso notes the importance of coordinating “a process to develop options and recommendations to improve consistency, equity, and simplicity in recreational access fee systems…including the potential for developing a system that allows a single pass.”  We in WRPA are supportive of this effort and appreciate work by both Sen. Parlette and House Appropriations Chair Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish/44th Dist.) to include the proviso and funding.

Support funding and policy initiatives to address growing mental health, human services, and homelessness issues in local communities:  Please see information noted above under budgets regarding Operating and Capital funding for homelessness, mental health, and housing for youth and vulnerable adults.

Provide Flexibility for Counties to Use Some Conservation Futures Proceeds Toward M&O

As we noted in the Week 6 report, SB 5614 “died” in Senate Rules.  Clark County and Spokane County had taken the lead role on 5614, which we at WRPA supported.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

I previously reported that Sens. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.) and Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines/33rd Dist.), the respective Capital Budget leads for their Caucuses, had interest in finding $500,000 in the 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget for 10 “de-contamination” stations where the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife would spray boats to prevent the carrying of invasive species.  Rather than diverting it from Boating Facilities Program funds, the Senators worked with us after learning that the de-contamination stations could be an eligible grant recipient of BFP funding.  Under Section 3021 of the Senate-approved Capital Budget, the Legislature “encourages the (Recreation and Conservation Funding) board to consider applications for the 2017-19 funding program that will fund the purchase and installation of capital equipment to control invasive species at or near selected boat launches…”  We thank Sens. Honeyford and Keiser for working this proviso language out with us and refraining from a dedicated account fund diversion.

Oppose legislation to prematurely place a moratorium on use of crumb-rubber materials for turf fields, but support efforts to further study whether the material presents measurable health risks

As we reported, PSHB 2547 and SB 6540 have ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.  We will have more to discuss on this topic in the interim.

”Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition

Nothing new to report.

Quick Snapshot on Other Issues of interest/impact to WRPA

  • Discover Pass bills – SSB 6297, SB 5137, SB 5205, etc.:  Senator Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) has asked lobbyists representing outdoor recreation to speak out on the issue of bills that chip away at Discover Pass revenues.  That led to the development of a group letter which we’ve shared with you.  As far as the progress, or lack thereof, on the bills:  6297 which allows small counties to potentially keep more Discover Pass infraction revenue may “die” in House Appropriations; 6137 which gives 100 percent disability returning veterans a free Discover Pass, appears to have “died” in Senate Rules; and SB 5205, which provides a complimentary Discover Pass to spouses volunteering sufficient hours at State Parks, is stuck as a stand-alone bill but referenced in the Senate Budget which keeps it “alive.”
  • Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) - $400,000 in bridge funding:  We at WRPA provided our support for $400,000 in “bridge funding” to help with WTA website and printing costs.  The House Operating Budget provides $198,000 of this funding; the Senate Operating Budget does not include any of the funds.
  • Restore liquor revenues – HB 2438, removing the cap on liquor revolving account funds and gradually restoring the 50/50 percentage split between the state and local governments: Last week, one of our champions on HB 2438, ‘Local Government Champions Caucus’ convener Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.), went to bat for this bill with the House Appropriations Chairman and didn’t get very far.  She was told that the House’s job this Session is to balance the state’s budget.  She was also told that cities and counties are asking for more money for law enforcement at the very same time they continue to hire away Washington State Patrol troopers at higher salaries.  While we may have very different perspectives on these two points, the fact is that this bill is now extremely unlikely to emerge in 2016.
  • Bills to extend the life of the Invasive Species Council (SB 6162/HB 2331) and the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group (SB 6296/HB 2493):  These bills kept motoring along in Week 7.  6162 and companion 2331 are now both in their “opposite house” Rules Committees, as are 6296 and companion 24936162/2331 extends the sunset date for the Invasive Species Council from 2017 to 2022, while 6296/2493 adds 10 years of statutory life to the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group.
  • 2SHB 2667 – Allowing the State Parks & Recreation Commission to use majority (rather than unanimous) votes to approve long-term leases beyond 20 years:  These bills were initially envisioned to apply statewide.  That concept is likely “dead” for the 2016 Session, and even piloting 2667 based on a pending proposal at Saint Edward State Park is running into very heavy turbulence.  State Parks and the City of Kenmore are working closely with House bill sponsor Jessyn Farrell (D-Lake Forest Park/46th Dist.),
  • SHB 2334, regarding the sales taxation of martial arts:  This bill has passed the House and is called out in the House Operating Budget.  It has a hearing Monday afternoon in Senate Ways & Means.  2334 exempts from sales tax any yoga, chi gong, and martial arts activities not held in a gym or fitness center. This bill is a follow-up to the 2015 bill that we (WRPA) worked on around taxation of recreation and amusement activities.  The fact that 2334 has only a $157,000 fiscal impact for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium gives its proponents some hope.
  • Public Records Act reform – 2SHB 2576:  Unfortunately, last Thursday, what had a been a frequently worked on and amended bill became a nearly two-year-long study.  Efforts of moving a PRA reform bill wilted in the face of furious ‘no on 2576’ lobbying from newspapers and the Washington Coalition for Open Government.  Instead, a $250,000 study, to be conducted by the Williams Ruckelshaus Center, was imbedded into the Operating Budget via a Floor Amendment by 2576 bill sponsor Joan McBride (D-Kirkland/48th Dist.).  Here’s a weekend story from the Everett Herald on the bill-to-study jounrey:

  • HB 2427, local government modernization:  2427 had a hearing in Senate Government Operations last Thursday and passed out of the committee later that same day. We support the provision in the bill to explicitly authorize local governments to use electronic signatures for formal document recording. 
  • SSB 6363, ensuring public access considerations when a bridge across a river or waterway is constructed, rebuilt, or replaced:  Recreational boating groups are promoting this piece of legislation, which is now poised to pass out of House Transportation on Monday.  Because this bill only requires the Washington State Department of Transportation to “consider” recreational access, and leaving intact public access, it is not binding in nature.  But it is a start.
  • EHB 2971 – reporting use of REET: This bill has been amended to help further clarify and narrow the reporting requirements under a REET (Real Estate Excise Tax) funding and M&O flexibility bill passed by the 2015 Legislature.  2971 had a Senate Ways and Means hearing last Tuesday, and would need to clear the Committee by the end of the day Monday to remain ‘alive.’

EHB 1918, modifying provisions applicable to off-road, non-highway, and wheeled all-terrain vehicles and their drivers:  This bill passed the House on a 92-5 vote and then passed last Thursday out of the Senate Transportation Committee.  The bill focuses mostly on liability, titling, and safety-inspection issues, but does have provisions enabling out-of-state-licensed ATVs to be exempted from registration requirements in Washington if the other state has a similar reciprocal exemption.    

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