5/1/2013 1:25:00 PM Senator Parlette's update on Olympia
By Linda Evans Parlette
At 103 days into the 105-day 2013 legislative session, I can honestly tell you that there are as many questions as answers. At this point it appears a special session will be necessary to reach agreement on a budget and associated bills. The reality is that even if an agreement were to be reached, it would be difficult to adjourn on time based on the fact that it takes 48 hours to complete the papework associated with the budget.
There are several major differences between the bipartisan budget approved by the Senate and the one approved by 50 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The Senate budget does not rely on tax increases while the House proposes to increase taxes by $900 million.
The Senate budget does not utilize the state's "Rainy Day" reserve account, while the House budget would spend most of it.
The Senate budget balances over four years, as required by state law, and the House is $800 million out of budget over four years due to the fact they scaled their tax package down.
We now wait to see whether the House of Representatives and the governor will make a good-faith effort to partner with us in budget negotiations. If the motivation is there, we could finish our work by early next week. In the Senate, we'll be working through the weekend to try to secure an agreement.
Senate passes budget bills
As you'll recall, the Senate passed a budget plan three weeks ago by a bipartisan vote of 30-19 that included the support of 21 Republicans and nine Democrats. Since then, the Senate has been hard at work passing the bills associated with the budget.
The following is a summary of two of the key budget-related bills the Senate passed this week.
K-12 education funding plan - Senate Bill 5895
In the past 30 years, non-education spending has grown twice as fast as education spending in the state budget. This is a good example of what led the Supreme Court to find the state is not living up to its paramount duty to make ample provision for basic-education funding in last year's "McCleary" decision.
SB 5895 addresses the court ruling in several ways. Rather than raising new taxes to increase funding for education, as has been proposed by the governor and the majority party in the House of Representatives, the bill would control the growth of non-education state spending. Those efficiencies would then be redirected to basic education.
Under the bill, education spending would be permitted to grow by up to 12 percent each year, while non-education spending growth would be confined to a rate of inflation and population increases. That policy change alone frees up $1.5 billion for education funding in the next four years.
Another component of the bill is moving state property tax revenue from the general fund to the Education Legacy Account. This move would not increase property taxes; instead it would dedicate the state portion of existing property taxes to education. This is an important provision, as keeping those revenues separate from the general fund allows state debt levels to decrease.
As you know, controlling state debt has been an issue I have been working on intently for several years. It is unacceptable that state debt-service payments have grown three times faster than education spending over the last 30 years. Dedicating the state's portion of property taxes to education reduces these debt-service payments by over $500 million in the next ten years.
Reforming the state's toxic-cleanup program - Senate Bill 5296
Washington's toxic-cleanup program, which was established in 1988, is supported by the state's hazardous substance tax levied on oil refineries. Tax dollars flowing into the account have in recent years made it become a frequent target of diversions to the general fund. Meanwhile cleanups have lagged, leaving as many as 5,000 toxic sites around the state awaiting action.
SB 5296 refocuses the program on its original goals of cleaning toxic sites and preventing future hazards. Some hazardous-substance revenues would be deposited into a new account to be used exclusively on capital projects that meet innovation and efficiency standards spelled out in state law. Appropriations would have to be specifically approved by the Legislature to increase accountability. The timeline for projects would also be expedited by emphasizing those cleanup efforts that are ready to begin.
As I said, I'll be checking back in on Sunday to provide more information on whether the Legislature has been able to come to agreement on a budget and key policy bills. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback about any issue facing our state. Please feel free to contact me anytime by phone in Olympia at (360) 786-7622 if I can be of service to you or your family.
Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Washington State Senate.