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Getting Ready in Olympia

The start of the 2011 Legislative Session has started and will continue for 15 weeks to the end of April – at least that’s what the state constitution provides. Given the poor fiscal health of the state, the Legislature may need extra time to figure out how to reduce the budget shortfall. Expect immediate budget action on the current biennium as time is of the essence to find about a billion dollars in savings just to keep the state in the black by the end of June. In discussions with budget staff, this may prove a more difficult task than actually solving the bigger $4 billion plus budget shortfall for the next 2-year budget cycle that starts July 1. There’s a long way to go and a short time to get there.

The Legislature will take up the supplemental budget this week and many in the human services lobby will be asking the House and Senate Ways & Means Committee members to look at eliminating business tax exemptions to help close the budget gap. Many in the human service lobby are asking that budget prioritization look at the trade-offs between B&O tax breaks for real estate brokers weighted against children’s health care. It is not clear if the elimination of a tax exemption is a tax increase and thus requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature under the recent voter-approved Eyman Initiative 960. Thus, looking at tax exemptions currently enjoyed by many businesses across the state may come under scrutiny in this revenue desperate legislature.

On the very first day of session, the House Committee on Community Development & Housing had a work session (no public testimony) on renewing the motion picture tax credit which supports Washington Filmworks, a program that has been a home run for Spokane bringing several filming projects to the city. The tax credit sunsets in June of this year but the legislature is taking action to renew it.

Other recent work sessions include looking at state funding for Area Development Organizations or more commonly known in Olympia as ADOs. ADOs are the state designated organizations that have state economic development responsibilities in each county. Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) is the ADO for Spokane County. GSI’s own Shelley O’Quinn was on hand last Wednesday morning to testify before the House Community Development Committee to discuss the effectiveness of the state revenue share program.

Written by: Jim Hedrick, GSI’s State Lobbyist

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