Guns, sex-ed, and death penalty all on the line in Olympia
There are just about three weeks left in the regular 2020 legislative session and lawmakers have a lot to wrap up before March 12.
The House and Senate release their supplemental budget proposals Monday, and will hold hearings on those later that afternoon.
Budget writers have been working to fine tune proposals after the latest economic forecast released last week showed the state expecting to bring in much more revenue than expected — $606 million through the middle of the current two year budget cycle that ends in 2021, and $536 million more for the following two years.
Through mid-2021, that puts state revenues at $52.3 billion, with about $4.1 billion in reserves. The question for budget writers is what to do with that money, and every lawmaker has an opinion.
House Budget Chair, Democrat Rep. Timm Ormsby, has said it will be used where it is needed on things like homelessness, behavioral health, and early learning.
House Republicans have their own ideas for the surplus: Tax breaks.
Right after the revenue forecast came out, Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary proposed legislation he billed as a $1 billion dollar tax break for working families that would allow for $30 car tabs and transit projects by diverting money away from sales tax collected on vehicle sales, and eliminating the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, diapers, and prepared food sold at grocery stores.
Stokesbary says Democrats could do all of that and still have billions in surplus.
Senate Budget Chair, Democrat Christine Rolfes, appears to prefer a more cautious approach.
“This is certainly good news and another sign of the strength of Washington’s economy, but we must continue to be cautious and embrace responsible fiscal policy as we continue to address our communities’ pressing needs. We are in the process of writing a smart, balanced budget that will leave historically strong reserves to guard against a future recession,” Rolfes said in a statement.
House and Senate Transportation budgets will also be released Monday and Tuesday, respectively, with all eyes on how lawmakers plan to address necessary cuts from the impact of I-976 as it continues to move through the courts. Transportation leaders in both chambers have said their priority is ensuring cuts don’t hurt those most in need, especially transportation programs and transit for those with disabilities.
As all of that budget action begins, there are also dozens of committee hearings scheduled this week as lawmakers work to move policy bills out of committee before the next cut off deadline one week from Monday. That’s when House bills have to be out of Senate committees and vice versa. Other bills related to the budget are exempt from the deadline.
There is no shortage of controversy surrounding many of the bills set to be heard in committee this week. A proposed ban on high capacity magazines, abolishing the death penalty, mandatory comprehensive sex education in K-12 schools, lowering penalties for intentionally infecting someone with HIV, Boeing tax breaks, automated traffic safety cameras, and allowing King County to enact a payroll tax on big business are among bills scheduled for public hearings or votes in committee this week.