Washington State Interim Report - July 2016

With the Washington State primary election coming up on August 2, conversation surrounding the 2017-19 Washington State biennial budget continues to be a focus of state politics. Adding to the challenges, several recent court rulings have imposed new impacts on the state as reflected in the headlines outlined below. Finally, you will find below general highlights of Washington State legislative and regulatory activity over the past month. 

Topics Covered Below:
Budget Update 
McCleary Education Funding Update 
June Joint Education Task Force Meeting
Higher Education
Transportation
Important Dates

Budget Update
The most recent state economic and revenue update shows revenue projections higher than expected at 3.8% ($77.8 million) above the February forecast. Cumulatively, revenues are up 3.8% or $217.9 million. You can view the latest Economic and Revenue Council report here

McCleary Education Funding Update
The Washington State Supreme Court McCleary decision in 2012 held that the state had failed to adequately fund K-12 basic education. In mid-June, the Washington Research Council produced this report explaining the funding requirements of the 2012 McCleary decision and how it will impact the upcoming budget process in 2017. And the Everett Herald published this blog about next year’s 2017-19 biennial budget and its focus on education funding to meet the McCleary decision requirements by 2018. It points out that even with higher-than-forecasted revenues coming in for Washington State, the revenue will not be enough to meet court-ordered education funding requirements. In fact, Office of Financial Management (OFM) Director David Schumacher issued this letter dated on June 10 advising higher education institutions and public agencies to refrain from requesting funds for new programs or expansion of existing programs in the 2017-19 biennial operating and capital budgets.

In an effort to escalate pressure on the Legislature, Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn (D) called on the Supreme Court to consider closing Washington State K-12 public schools as explained by the Seattle Times in this article. Dorn argued his point by reasoning the Legislature was taking too long to comply with the McCleary decision funding requirements. 

June Joint Education Task Force Meeting
Meanwhile, on June 9 the Joint Education Funding Task Force, created by the passage of E2SSB 6195 during the 2016 session, met to continue work on a funding solution to satisfy the McCleary decision. The Task Force is collecting data and meeting regularly during the interim in order to develop a funding plan for the upcoming session. There is a public comment section at the end of each meeting. At the end of the last meeting Senator Rivers (R-18th District) shared her dislike for a proposal to use a capital gains tax and close tax preferences as a way to generate revenue, as summarized in this Seattle Met blog. Following Rivers’ comments, Representative Sullivan (D-47th District) advocated for a capital gains tax as a source of education funding revenue. These comments from the task force members are a likely foreshadowing of education funding debates that will occur during the 2017 session.

Higher Education
$141 Million Funding Request from Community Colleges
Even though the OFM Director advised against it, the state’s community colleges have announced plans to ask for an additional $141 million in the 2017-19 budget, as explained in this Seattle Times article.

College Savings Plans in Summer 2017
The Associated Press reported in this article that Washington State is planning on opening two college savings plans. The State has plans to reopen the prepaid college tuition program (GET) and also open a new 529-college savings plan. Plans have been made for GET to reopen in July 2017 and the new Washington State 529 college savings plan is also expected to open in the summer of 2017. 

Transportation
Hazardous Substance Rail Transport
After a recent oil train derailment, the governor met with federal officials and also released this op-ed advocating for regulations regarding oil train safety. Inslee cited the recent derailment of an oil train in Oregon as a good example of why these types of regulations are needed urgently. In the op-ed, Inslee pointed to a measure passed by the Washington State Legislature to increase rail safety of hazardous materials and emphasized a need for federal regulations to address oil trains that cross state lines. In response, the Association of Washington Business President wrote this op-ed supporting rail with an explanation as to why it is the safest way to transport hazardous materials. 

Important Dates

  • July 8 – Last day to turn in qualifying signatures for initiatives to be placed on the ballot
  • August 2 – Washington State Primary Election (ballots mailed out on July 15)
  • November 8 – General Election 

This interim update was provided by CompTIA's contract lobbyist Tom McBride. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like any additional information regarding this update. Thank you!