With only 15 days to go in the 2013 regular legislative session all attention is directed towards two primary objectives. First pass legislation that is still active in the process before cut-off on Wednesday. Second, finalize an agreed upon conference budget between the Washington Senate and House.
For the majority of bills still “alive” this session this Wednesday, April 17 at 5:00 p.m. marks the final day of consideration for bills that started in the opposite chamber. In other words, House bills must pass the full Senate, and vice versa. The exceptions are NTIB (Necessary to Implement the Budget) bills and policy bills that have been labeled as “go-home” bills.
Late last week, the Washington House passed a proposed 2013-15 biennial operating budget, primarily along party lines. One week prior, the Washington Senate passed its proposed biennial operating budget with a vote of 31-18 that included members from both parties.
The Senate’s proposed budget makes some enhancements, primarily in education. The enhancements as well as the other parts of the budget are funded through a combination of savings, transfers, and the redirection of funds. In addition, the proposal balances the budget and leaves a reserve. Finally the budget assumes $61 million in new revenues. This increase includes a combination of $11 million in legislation reducing revenue and $72 million in legislation/budget actions increasing revenue.
The House’s proposal addresses the state’s $3.4 billion budget problem through policy enhancements, fund transfers, reduced spending, and increased resources. The House proposal makes $2 billion in additional policy enhancements, the majority of which are in K-12 ($1.4 billion). These enhancements as well as the other parts of the budget are funded through a combination of savings, reduced spending, and increased resources. Finally, the House proposal leaves $337 million in projected total reserves.
The budgets also differ in what they fund for higher education, though both budgets provide roughly the same level of investment – $100 million (this includes funding for the two- and four-year sectors and financial aid).
The Senate proposal assumes no increases in resident undergraduate tuition rates for the 2013-15 biennium. The budget provides $77.8 million in funding to support the core academic functions of the institutions of higher education and an additional $50 million in recognition of the institutions performance in support of statewide goals relating to student retention and degree completion. Finally the budget makes an investment in financial aid including the College Bound Scholarship program and the State Need Grant. The investments in the Senate proposal are funded in part ($59 million) with dollars that would be generated from a 20% surcharge on international students who attend the two- and four-year public institutions.
The House proposal provides $11 million in targeted funding for state instructional support and $12 million to support biofuels and clean energy programs. The proposed budget assumes a 3% tuition increase for The Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and the Community and Technical Colleges; and a 5% tuition increase for Western Washington University, Washington State University, and the University of Washington. Finally the budget makes an investment in financial aid including the College Bound Scholarship program and the State Need Grant.
The primary focus over the next two days will be to move bills prior to the Wednesday cut-off. Once this deadline passes all attention will be focused on the development of a biennial conference budget. And within this discussion whether or not the Washington Legislature will go into special session to complete their work.