February 20, 2014

Democratic leaders: Let's finish on time -- and with a transportation deal

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 2
Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, addresses the Feb. 20 Lobby Lunch audience. Looking on is Rep. Larry Spring, D-Kirkland, (center) and AWB Government Affairs Committee Chair Brad Tower. (Photo by Brian Mittge/AWB)
After last year's legislative session went into double overtime, Rep. Larry Spring said he hears one question a lot these days as people look at the scheduled end of the 60-day session: "Is March 13 real?"

"Yes," he said at Thursday's AWB Lobby Lunch, "It's real. Our caucus, I don't think, sees anything on the horizon out there that should cause us to look at any special session."

The only point of concern, he said, is coming to agreement about a supplemental budget with the Senate, which has been skeptical about whether an off-year budget adjustment is needed in a rare year without a projected budget shortfall.

"Our caucus certainly agrees there needs to be one," he said, with new revenue in the range of $100-$200 million.

He said this week's relatively flat revenue forecast was the best possible outcome, since a big increase or decrease in revenue would have required major budget rewrites. He doesn't want to spend the entire  $30 million in anticipated new revenue, but did say he would like to send some money to social programs that have seen cuts in recent years.

"Putting an extra million or two into K-12 doesn't mean much, but a into a food lifeline program means a whole lot," Springer said. 

He also emphasized the need for passage of a comprehensive transportation plan. Springer said the traditional model, of each chamber passing a bill as a basis for negotiation, hasn't worked this time around. The House passed part of a transportation package at the end of last year's second special session, but the Senate has not yet passed a plan on the floor. 

Springer said he would have voted for an interim proposal released late last year by Sen. Curtis King, but not the latest version released earlier this month. He disagrees with a key Senate requirement -- exempting the transportation package projects from sales tax.

"It's not a reform. It's simply a budgetary trick to move money from your left pocket to your right pocket," Springer said. "That might be the right thing to do, but it's not a reform. It doesn't change how we do business. It just changes how we pay for it."

He decried political brinksmanship on both sides, saying demands for reforms are weighing down the package. That's frustrating, he said, because the packages pushed by both the House and Senate have benefits for every district and every kind of constituent. 

The most significant recent legislative accomplishment this year to help business was the passage of the Boeing tax incentive bill. 

"I think it will probably be 10 years,15 years before we fully realize the implications of the work that the Legislature did. ... It was a difficult task, it was a difficult decision. I think most of us believe it was the right one. I certainly do." He said the bill went far beyond Boeing to help 1,350 other aerospace-related companies in 34 of Washington's 39 counties. 

"his was a Washington state deal," he said. "Boeing happens to be the big trigger."

Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said the Legislature needs to ensure that high school students have 24 credits to graduate. She listed Senate Bill 6552 as key to ensuring they are ready for college, technical training or careers, she said.

There are, she said, "different paths for kids to be successful and for businesses to have skilled employees."

She listed the marine skills center in Anacortes, where high school and community college students can learn skills in composites -- trade skills equally useful in the maritime industry or in making Boeing's new high-tech 777X wing.

Lytton said she said the Legislature also needs to fund cost of living adjustments for teachers, saying younger teachers in particular need to have both the annual step increases -- which have continued even during the recession -- and COLAs, which may have been funded at the local level but haven't been funded by the state.

"A COLA is a big deal. The teachers, many of them, have not had cost-of-living adjustments for five or six years. ... We can't go year to year without raises. I don't know how many of you in this room have gone without raises for five or six years," she asked.

"I think it's a problem. I think it's something we have to address, no doubt about it."

Thursday's Lobby Lunch was the last of the 2014 session.


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