Olympia: Where legislation goes to die

Transportation, taxes, education, environment. Nada. Lawmakers close the book on another largely unproductive session.
For more Milt Priggee cartoons, check out his web site

For more Milt Priggee cartoons, check out his web site MiltPriggee.com

Lately, the legislation process in Washington State is lost at sea.

Lately, the legislation process in Washington State is lost at sea. Credit: guneyc/Flickr

Olympia is the Bermuda Triangle of legislation. Most major bills entered there — and disappeared.

Proposals for heavy lifting on the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary ruling vanished. New taxes, new tax breaks and new attempts to close tax exemptions all dropped off the radar screen. Efforts to jumpstart new transportation projects faded away. Climate change proposals evaporated. Oil transportation safety took a detour into the Twilight Zone. The Reproductive Parity Act had its annual collapse in the Senate.

In some political circles, the lack of progress is good because no new taxes were levied on Washingtonians. But a massive pile of problems will be inherited by the 2015 State Legislature, assuming that today's reluctance to compromise won't also extend to next year.

Aside from the routine bills, three pieces of major legislation did make it through. One was a bare-bones supplemental budget that tweaked the state's current (2013-15) $33.6 billion operating budget. The other two involved a change of heart by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus on two originally Democratic proposals: One proposal allows high school graduates whose parents are undocumented immigrants to qualify for state college aid; the other preserves a $40 fee on home sales until 2019, which helps the poor and homeless secure private and public housing. (This last minute conversion came after the Coalition took political heat for opposing both measures.)

Here is a breakdown of what did and did not get done in the 2014 legislative session:

Taxes and tax breaks

Both sides agreed to get nowhere on levying new taxes, creating new tax breaks and closing tax exemptions. Republicans and Democrats let all these proposals die with the understanding that all will be re-tackled in 2015. Each side is praying that the other will magically change its mind between now and May of next year.

The casualties of this do-nothing approach include several Republican proposals for new tax breaks worth $83 million in 2014-2015. Meanwhile, Democrats were eager to eliminate a tax break that mainly benefits five oil refineries; force out-of-state residents to pay Washington's sales tax; impose the sales tax on bottled water; and eliminate a B&O tax break for drug resellers. Eliminating those tax breaks would have raised a toal of $106 million in 2014-2015, and $203 million in 2015-2017. That extra revenue would have financed education improvements and cost-of-living increases for teachers. But Democrats withdrew those proposals as part of the final budget deal.

Another session casualty was the tax on electronic cigarettes proposed by Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. Carlyle originally sought a tax rate of 95 percent on e-cigarettes, but dropped it down to 75 percent, and then to 50 percent before finally giving it up entirely. "There was very strong, fierce, overwhelming opposition from the Senate," said Carlyle, who plans to revive the proposal in 2015.

Education

In its 2012 McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court found the state in violation of its Constitutional duty to provide a basic education for Washington's kids. The biggest thrust of the court’s decision is to improve teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3. That means hiring more teachers and building more classrooms. The number of high school hours was also supposed to increase to 1,080, and the number of credits needed for graduation to 24. The estimated cost of these changes, between 2013 and 2019, is $4-$4.5 billion.

All Democratic attempts to raise those extra billions — by closing tax breaks and creating an electronic cigarette tax — failed. As did Democratic efforts to restore teacher cost-of-living raises.

The Legislature did overwhelmingly approve the 1,080 annual hours and 24 credits requirements. It also added $58 million for McCleary preparatory work, which brings the total McCleary appropriations to $1.04 billion. That leaves $3-$3.5 billion to be found and allocated during the next four years, with no funding sources identified so far.

Senate Democrats failed — 23-26, along caucus lines — to get the full Senate to adopt the House's supplemental capital budget. The $166.5 million House proposal came with a plan to borrow $700 million, against future lottery revenue, to help build the extra classrooms needed to comply with McCleary’s mandate for lower teacher-student ratios. Democrats claimed that the supplementary budget would also fund 2,500 jobs. "This is the first time in my short career where we refused to invest in job creation," said Sen.Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo. The Senate’s Majority Coalition soured on the House proposal’s $82 million for a Washington State Patrol building to be constructed near the Capitol campus in Olympia. "Hotel California. Palace. Whatever you call it. We don't need it," said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Perfect! The State Legislature voted to approve the higher high school graduation requirements and then voted to reject paying for them.

coolpapa

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Perfect! The State Legislature voted to approve the higher high school graduation requirements and then voted to reject paying for them.

coolpapa

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

A lot of legislation needs to die. Figuring out which is which is why we keep legislatures around. That and the alternative.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr Stang seems to be under the impression there is no teacher evaluation law in our state. Here's proof there is (this from TPEP):

"Why has Washington changed the evaluation laws for certificated classroom teachers and certificated principals and assistant principals?

Washington is one of 31 states to change educator evaluation laws over the past three years. The Washington State Legislature passed E2SSB 6696 in 2010 that created the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) and TPEP Steering Committee."

Indeed, it is considered one of the better first efforts for teacher evaluation. What Duncan wanted was a one-word change from "can" use test scores to "must" use test scores and he was using NCLB dollars as a mighty big stick. Luckily Washington state legislators refused to be bullied in this manner and said no.

I think Duncan will give something of a partial waiver and this is not really going to be the big deal that some are making of it.

I'm with Coolpapa; the Legislature votes in more hours and more credits for graduation but where are the dollars to enact this work? What about the time and money that districts will have to spend with unions in order to renegotiate contracts to include this work?

We don't even fund our schools to the national average and yet our Legislature wants to keep puffing out its collective chest as if they are truly getting anything done for K-12 education in Washington State.

Not to mention the disaster that is Common Core.

westello

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Memo to Mr. Carlyle, why on earth when the overwhelming majority of your other elected leaders were so vehemently against your insane idea of a 95% then 75% then 50% tax on e-cigarettes are you planning to bring it back to discussion in 2015? Do you not understand what wasting time is all about?

Get a clue. Find some government efficiencies and save some money instead of trying to tax the bejesus out of something new that definitely cuts smoking.

What a dip-s.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 10:23 p.m. Inappropriate

The recording document fee which funds about 50% of the state's efforts to help homeless people was extended for 4 years. However, a major problem was the compromise that allowed the Senate to go along with it: at least 45% of that funding will go to for-profit landlords in the form of rent vouchers. Since most for-profit landlords have no interest in renting to formerly homeless people, that means that the funding is essentially cut: the less that the landlords get, the less that's available for non-profit housing providers. It's difficult to see into the brains of Republicans who think it's a good idea to cut funding that gets people out of homelessness, but the fact is they do.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with sarah90 and with Sen. Kohl-Welles when they express concern about the 45% of the document recording fees going to for-profit landlords instead of to not-for-profit housing for which there is a critical lack of funding.

I disagree with the Senator from Kitsap County who bulldozed the original bill by not allowing a vote on it. Does she not think there are homeless people in her district? She needs to get out more and see how serious the problem of homelessness is in our state.

nwcitizen

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