Major policy cut-off passes; now on to the budget.
Lawmakers worked late at the beginning of the week to move bills out of their houses of origin before the Wednesday 5:00 pm cut-off. There were only six business days to get bills onto the floor for debate and a vote resulting in a large number of bills dying for lack of time to take action on them. Now that the house of origin cut-off has passed, policy bills are being considered by the opposite body and the House and Senate have until Friday, February 26, to push bills out of committee.
In addition, the supplemental budgets will now be finalized by the House and Senate. It is tradition that the House will introduce its budget first, which we expect sometime late this week or early next week. The Senate will then follow suit one or two days later.
A complicating factor arose early on Wednesday when the legislature received a report from the Economic Forecast Council indicating that revenues for the state are not as high as previously forecasted, and, in fact, the projected budget deficits increased by $79 million. This news, combined with other cost drivers that were not assumed in the biennial budget last summer, means the legislature is facing approximately $900 million in budget shortfalls.
In other news, lawmakers came together to produce a bill that will study solutions to fix Washington’s education funding gap, which is a big step forward towards fulfilling the requirements of the McCleary decision. The bill passed out of the Senate 26-23 on Tuesday and then 66-31 in the House on Thursday. The bill formally extends the work of Governor Inslee’s education task force and provides a quarter million dollars to analyze the funding requirements of local schools, including breaking down teacher compensation by region. Figuring out how to work teacher compensation into a new statewide system will be a major task in fulfilling the McCleary obligations.
Carbon Policy: A hearing on I 732 is being held on Friday morning in the House Finance Committee. At this point, alternatives to I 732 are not likely and the Legislature will let it go to the ballot as is.
House Bill 2346 related to solar incentives passed out of the House on Tuesday evening and a hearing in the Senate Energy Environment and Telecommunications is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 pm.