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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist: 03/14/2016

The 60-day Regular Session is done, but the 2016 Legislature isn’t.

While a number of “concurrence” or “dispute” bills passed off the Senate/House Floor, and a 2016 Supplemental Transportation Budget reached the finish line, legislators remain without agreed-upon Supplemental Operating and Capital budgets.  A frustrated Governor Jay Inslee had threatened to veto “5-day” bills on his desk early in Week 9, and followed through by indeed vetoing 27 of the 37 bills before him.  The Governor also called legislators into an immediate 30-day Special Session that began on Friday.

Legislators from both parties appeared unfazed by the Inslee vetoes, though we did see Senate Republicans release a revised version of their 2016 Operating Budget proposal on Friday.  Senators held a Ways & Means Committee hearing the same day on the proposal, designed to show where Senate Republicans had moved in their Operating Budget negotiations with the House.

It does appear that Operating Budget negotiators are close, with some reporting they are now only about $150 million apart on the big-picture details of a nearly $40-billion state general-fund budget.  Productive talks appear to be occurring on the Capital Budget as well, leading to some speculation that lawmakers could wrap up their work in a few days’ time.  On the other hand, without immediate deadlines hanging over them, lawmakers have shown some tendency in past years to run right up to (or past) the 30-day timeframe.

As I’ve been doing within these Weekly Reports, I again wanted to report on some of the key to-do items remaining on the budgets:

Operating Budget:  The Senate made a significant move toward the House by agreeing to utilize the state’s “Budget Stabilization Account” (Rainy Day Fund) for wildfire costs.  House Democrats would still like to see some $50-$60 million utilized for homelessness and mental health needs as well.  The Senate budget also retains some budget cuts and transfers that are not in the House budget, though the Senate did add $144 million in additional spending from its previous Floor-approved budget.  Both budgets now protect the lion’s share of “state-shared revenues” critical to local governments, and the Senate’s latest budget restores 2015-17 funding for the Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC) while eliminating previous costs shifts to cities/counties on Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) training.  Concern remains with parts of the Senate’s latest budget that eliminate (and transfer to wildlife recovery) Fire Insurance Premium Tax revenue distributions to 44 cities, and express the Senate’s intent to remove $154 million in Public Work Assistance Account (PWAA) funds in 2017-19, virtually de-funding the program.

Capital Budget:  The two chambers are now more constructively trading ideas on how to address a nearly $80 million shortfall in Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) revenues.  An offer put forth by the House would have had Remedial Action Grants for toxic-site cleanups taking 2/3rd of the cuts and stormwater projects absorbing 1/3rd.  The Senate was preparing to send over a counter-offer over the weekend.  We are also hearing the final Capital Budget will expend less on “Local/Community Projects” than the $17.1 million approved by the House in its version of the budget.

Transportation Budget:  Legislators can check the box on this one.  A negotiated 2016 Supplemental Transportation Budget (ESHB 2524) passed the Senate 44-5 last Tuesday and the House 86-10 last Wednesday.  The bi-partisan budget, on which we provided a detailed memo, awaits the Governor’s signature.  I have shared that this budget includes $3.13 million for the first increment of “Complete Streets” grant funding to be administered by the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), as well as ongoing Safe Routes to Schools and Bicycle-Pedestrian grant program funding.

On the local government front, cities and counties had a “two steps forward, one step back” final week of the Session.  The number of cuts to local government programs and distributions has been reduced, and the Senate has at least temporarily shelved a proposed merger of the LEOFF 1 and Teachers’ Retirement System 1 (TRS 1) plans that had caused some angst.  But the issue of funding for new BLEA classes remains unsettled, the Fire Insurance Premium Tax cuts remain, and the hammer is hanging over the head of the PWAA.  I should also note that a “body-cameras” bill received final passage from the House and heads to the Governor.

On a WRPA-specific front, we can view Week 9 as a positive one, since we saw final passage of the bill to update and revise the Washington Wildlife, Recreation, and Parks (WWRP) program.  Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 WRPA priority and support issues, and then a rundown of other issues impacting us.

WRPA Top Priorities

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

Yahoo! Last Tuesday, the Senate concurred on a 45-2 vote with House amendments to SSB 6227. The bill has been delivered to the Governor’s desk.  As I reported last week, I’m extremely pleased from an WRPA vantage point with how this bill turned out.  To reiterate the key pieces of 6227 we have flagged:

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 to state agencies to demonstrate some of the same due diligence and consistency in their projects that we have to show in ours, and to ‘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

We’re confident this one will turn out well, but first we need a final 2016 Capital Budget!  Both the Senate Floor-passed and House Committee-passed versions of the 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget (ESSB 6201/SHB 2380) include the $4.85 million allocation for the BFP that was recommended by the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) and proposed by Governor Inslee.  This 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.  Brittany has previously sent out the list of additional projects that would be funded – if you would like to see that again, just let us know.

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

Nothing new to report.  This will be one of our interim projects.  SB 6384 has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative

The outcome of this one is beholden to how the Senate and House finalize their Operating Budget negotiations.  In addition to $246,000 in underlying funding for HNG, ESHB 2376 approved by the House included an additional $170,000 for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) “healthy schools/healthy kids” efforts tied to HNG, and $94,000 for Department of Early Learning comprehensive health and nutrition services for young children.  The Senate’s 2016 Supplemental 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:  This is similar to the Boating Facilities Program (BFP) item above – we simply need a final budget to see it through.  The proviso and funding is in both the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget.  The language and funding can be found 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.  We in WRPA are supportive of this effort and appreciate work by both Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.) 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:  We have shared that both the House and Senate versions of the 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget provide new funds for mental health and homelessness assistance.  The House is pushing for the final Operating Budget to include some $50 to $60 million in Budget Stabilization Account spending for mental health and homelessness.  Additionally, the House budget has more robust funding for the “1115” Medicaid waiver we reported on last week, though the Senate’s latest budget is improved from what we saw previously.  As for affordable housing bills, they are all very likely “dead” for the Session.  The last of these, 2SSB 6239, was the Seattle-promoted bill offering a 10-year local property tax exemption to owners of multi-family housing who will agree to preserve and improve existing housing stock and keep rents constant.  The AWC and numerous cities supported this legislation, but it was amended in the House in a way that applies the bill solely to non-profit buildings.  That made it decidedly less appealing to Seattle and to other cities, and efforts to bring back the broader underlying language were not successful.

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

Nothing new to report.  The WRPA-supported bill, SB 5614, “died” in Senate Rules.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

As previously noted, we think any final budget will protect virtually all dedicated Capital Budget accounts for outdoor recreation.  Senators abandoned an initial idea of diverting $500,000 in Boating Facilities Program funds for 10 “de-contamination” Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) spray stations for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.  After learning from us that the de-contamination stations could be an eligible grant recipient of BFP funding, the Senate included in their Floor-passed Capital Budget language that “encourages” the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board to fund this type of project in the 2017-19 round.  Our colleagues at the RCO believe it’s highly likely that this language will be in the final Capital Budget.

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 need to tackle this issue head-on in the interim.

“Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition

Nothing new to report.

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