Second Special Session Begins with a Boom

After weeks of non-action on The Hill, the Washington Legislature held a marathon session last Thursday to pass two major pieces of legislation. This is considerable movement forward given that no bills were passed and sent to the Governor during the first special session.

In the early hours of Friday morning Governor Inslee signed into law two pieces of legislation. The first bill fully restores the estate tax, responding to the recent Bracken decision by the courts, and devotes the funds to education. The passage of this bill prevented the Washington Department of Revenue from issuing several checks to taxpayers in the next budget period because of the court ruling that found married couples using a certain kind of investment strategy should not have been on the hook for the tax. The bill does make this change to taxes retroactive which is likely to draw a legal challenge.

The passage of the estate tax legislation was successful in the Senate only because the House agreed to approve legislation that would deal with how the state handles environmental clean-up funds.

So what is next.

No further action took place on Friday. Over the weekend rank-and-file members for both chambers were sent back to district while budget negotiators met. Both chambers are scheduled for floor action on Monday, but the House is not asking members to return until Tuesday.

On June 18 the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will release its quarterly revenue forecast.  In addition, the caseload forecast will also be issued. Speculation suggests that both forecasts will provide lawmakers with good news to close out the budget negotiations for the next biennium.

Budget negotiations continue. Though no breakthrough occurred over the weekend the progress made late last week lends itself to some optimism that the Legislature will complete its work prior to July 1. The major difference between the Senate and the House continues to be the Senate’s opposition to new taxes and the Houses’ concern about the policy bills put forth by the Senate in exchange for a revenue and budget deal.

Throughout the regular session and the first special session, the Senate has moved forward a number of policy bills in exchange for moving forward some revenue in a final budget. Last Thursday saw the first breakthrough in this area with the passage of the estate tax bill, which only came after the passage of an environmental-cleanup fund policy bill.

In addition the Senate also passed a wide-ranging education bill on Thursday that is now being considered by the House.  The education bill along with a workers’ compensation reform bill are still in the mix, but two other major policy bills – state expenditure limitations on non-education areas of the budget and legislation that would grant principals the option to reject teachers who are appointed to their schools – appear to be off the table as the process moves forward. The Senate is still working to move forward the workers compensation and education bills in exchange for additional revenue around out-of-state shoppers and/or restoration of a tax on phone and other communications companies.

If the Legislature is unable to pass a budget by July 1, much of state government would likely have to shut down. The heads of state agencies have until 5:00 p.m. today to brings lists to the Governor identifying the services and staff that would be legally allowed to continue operating int he event of a partial government shutdown.

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