This week the budget committees in the Washington Senate and House are busy. On Friday (April 1) lawmakers must have moved bills from fiscal committees to the floor to keep the bills alive. The exception is any legislation that is necessary to implement the budget.
Both the Senate and House have held public hearings and executive sessions on bills that would impact higher education. Among these bills is legislation that would provide the option to four-year institutions of higher education to develop accelerated baccalaureate programs, a bill that expands academic flexibility to men and women in the National Guard, and legislation to include the Washington College Bound Program in the caseload forecast.
The Legislature will quickly turn to floor action in preparation for the next deadline on April 12. This marks the last day to take floor action on a bill that started in the opposite chamber. Most bills, with the exception of those necessary to implement the budget, will require some floor action prior to April 12.
As bills move forward, some of the most important bills – the budget bills – remain absent from the conversation. It has been nearly two weeks since the March revenue forecast which was nearly $700 million lower for the 2011-13 biennium and approximately $85 million lower in this current fiscal year.
New rumors on The Hill suggest that the House may release their operating budget on Monday (April 4) . While the Democrats and Republicans are trying to identify areas of agreement, there is talk that the House Republicans may roll out an alternative to the House Democrat’s budget when it is released.
In the Senate the Democrats and Republicans are working together to write a budget. Both have indicated that the Senate will wait for the House to release its proposal before they release the Senate budgets.
On the capital budget funds will be tight. There is great competition for fewer dollars. To boost capacity in the capital budget legislators are considering moving dedicated account funds into the general fund and there is some discussion of including property taxes in the base for capacity-counting purposes with other trade-offs to maintain the state’s bond rating.
A big issue with regard to the capital budget will be the fate of the bond bill. Democrats will need Republican votes to pass a bond bill which is required to authorize legislation to finance most of the capital budget through bond sales. A 60% vote is needed to pass the bill.
The capital budget is expected to follow the release of the operating budget in both chambers.