Legislative Session Update: February 19-24, 2024

By Jim Hedrick, GSI WA State Lobbyist and Spokane Regional Advocate

Jim Hedrick 2024

Wednesday was the cutoff for bills to be voted out of their policy committees in the chamber opposite to where they started. Bills with a financial impact to the state must make a quick journey through the fiscal committees, with a deadline of Monday, February 26th. After that, the chambers will return to the floor full-time to debate bills until Friday, March 1 when they will turn attention to reconciling differences, final concurrence and passing final budgets until the last day of session of March 7 (sine die).

The end of session is nearing and some legislators are beginning to make other plans. In response to the impending retirement of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-5th Congressional District – eastern Washington), Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-Colville) has announced her intention to run for the seat. Maycumber, a former law enforcement officer, was first elected to the House in 2017 and serves as the minority floor leader for her caucus. Another Republican will be handily elected to that safe seat. On the west side, Rep. Spencer Hutchins (R-Gig Harbor) has announced he will not seek reelection, noting the part-time legislature has taken a financial toll on his business. This will be an expensive swing race for Gig Harbor and the east side of Kitsap peninsula. On Tuesday, the Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint Joel McEntire’s (R-Longview) stepdaughter Lillian Hale to temporarily serve as his replacement beginning at the end of session as he has been called to active service in the Marine Corps reserve. Hale is studying nursing at Lower Columbia College. While not required, it is customary for a family member to fill in for deployed state officials. And finally, Senator Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) has announced his retirement after nearly 24 years in the legislature. Rep. Beth Doglio (D-Olympia) has indicated she is not interested in the seat, but Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia) has announced she will seek it.

In a mid-week announcement House Speaker Jinkins (D-Tacoma) and Senate Majority Leader Billig (D-Spokane) revealed which of the six Initiatives to the Legislature will be heard during session and which not get any action from the legislature and advance directly to the ballot. The House and Senate will hold joint public hearings on February 27th and 28th on I-2113 (police pursuits), I-2111 (state income tax), and I-2081 (parental rights). These are the initiatives that would have been more likely to pass at the ballot and would have made it more difficult for voters to simply reject all initiatives. I-2117 (repeal of the Climate Commitment Act), I-2109 (repeal of the capital gains tax), and I-2124 (opt-out of Washington’s long-term care program) will go to the ballot. These three are higher stakes for Democrats and their supporters and in their estimation, worthy of a greater, more expensive fight. If passed by the voters, a repeal of the Climate Commitment Act would cost the state dollars that are currently being spent on transportation and environmental programs, $1.8 billion already. If repealed, the capital gains tax would remove state money being spent on education and childcare. The state has already taken in nearly $900 million from the tax. And the third initiative, a repeal of the long-term care program would cut funds that ultimately go to SEIU 775, one of the most powerful unions statewide that represents long-term care workers.

Supplemental budgets are passed in even-numbered years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections to the two-year budgets passed in odd-numbered years. It also gives the state the opportunity to adjust spending to address emergent needs.

On Sunday, Senate budget writers released their $71.7 billion supplemental operating budget. This budget adds nearly $1.9 billion in new spending to the two-year budget passed by lawmakers in April 2023. The budget plan includes no new general taxes and leaves $4.3 billion in total reserves at the end of the biennium. The proposal highlights include a focus on education and behavioral health, including $242 million in new spending for K-12 schools, including funding for student meals, special education, and staffing needs, like paraeducators; $252 million in new spending to support efforts to transform the state’s behavioral health system, including funding for facilities and staffing; $135.9 million to operate 72 beds at Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health; $20 million for the University of Washington Behavioral Health teaching hospital; and $19 million to establish a psychiatric residential treatment facility in Lake Burien for youth, aged 12-18, with complex needs.

House budget writers released their $71 billion operating proposal on Monday, along with a capital and transportation budget. Highlights of the operating proposal include: $150 million for low and moderate-income clean energy assistance (Climate Commitment Act money), $210 million for increased state inpatient behavioral health capacity, $77 million for existing student transportation, $73 million for expansion or workforce training, $50 million for UW Hospital support, $44 million for MSOCs (materials, supplies, & operating costs at K-12 schools across the state and an additional $40 million for local homeless services.

A lot of drama this week over wide differences in House and Senate Transportation budgets. The Senate Transportation Budget provides $14.6 billion in appropriation authority, which is an increase of $1 billion over the 2023 enacted budget. The majority of the funding for additional spending comes from reappropriations, additional Climate Commitment Act (CCA) funding, $18 million from the general fund and $15.7 million from the Model Toxics Control accounts (MTCA). The Senate Transportation budget includes a controversial provision that directs the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to convene an expert review panel to examine the planned procurement methods for specific projects listed in the bill prior to initiating requests for qualifications on these projects. After the panel’s recommendations have been provided, WSDOT may initiate “new requests” for qualifications incorporating the recommendations as appropriate. The Expert Panel Review applies to several of the state’s mega highway projects including State Route 18 (I-90 to I-5), the North Spokane Corridor (US-395), and the Gateway Project in Pierce Count (SR 169). The additional budget process was at the request of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) after their investigation of cost overruns at the Portage Bay project (SR-520) in Seattle. That project is currently completely under contract but over $800 million over cost according to WSDOT. Opponents to the additional project examination approach are many but chiefly among them is Chair of the House Transportation Committee Rep. Jake Fey (D-27) who made it know he opposes any additional planning process that would cause delay in transportation projects.

Rep. Fey released his House Transportation Budget proposal this week which spends a total of $14.3 billion, which is an increase of $838 million from the enacted biennial budget. The House uses reappropriated federal funding, increased carbon emission revenues and fund balances from the Move Ahead Washington program to increase the total budget.

The House decreases or makes major funding adjustments by eliminating $50 million in Climate Commitment Act funding for Ultra High Speed Rail, directs WSDOT to reject the bids on the Portage Bay Bridge State Route (SR) 520 project and repackage the request for qualifications and proposal for the North Bridge only (intention is to complete the southern bridge and Roanoke lid portion of the project at a future time) and completely rescopes the State Route (SR) 18 widening project maintaining the original funding level of $655 million but essentially cutting the project in half and allocating funds for “Phase 1 improvements” from Tiger Mountain to Deep Creek, rather than to the Issaquah Hobart Road Interchange.

All budgets will be put to a conference committee this weekend and conferees will start the process to reconcile differences. There is a lot of daylight between how the House and Senate approach transportation. Stay tuned.

Upcoming Dates:
February 26 – Opposite House Fiscal Committee Cutoff
March 1 – Floor Cutoff
March 7 – Last day of Regular Session

For More Information
Public Policy developments change fast. Note this is a wrap-up of the week of February 19-24. You can find the prior week wrap-up here: February 12-16February 5-9, January 9-February 3January 22-26January 15-19, and January 8-12, 2024. For more details about any of the bills in this article, visit the Washington State Legislature page to search by bill number. For more information contact Jake Mayson, Director of Public Policy.

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