January 22, 2015

Education, transportation and climate top governor's to-do list

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0
Matt Steuerwalt, executive director of policy for Gov. Jay Inslee, addresses a full house at the Jan. 22, 2015 AWB Lobby Lunch. (Photo by Brian Mittge/AWB)

The blessing and the curse of being in the executive branch is going first.

“All of our ideas are out,” said Matt Steuerwalt, the governor’s executive director of policy, who kicked off the first of the 2015 AWB Lobby Lunch series. He was referring to the governor's budget proposal released Dec. 18.

While there is agreement among diverse groups that K-12 education is a top priority in the budget, the differences can be found what is funded and how they improve student outcomes.

The governor’s education spending priorities include a substantial investment in early learning, funding for the McCleary mandates, including full-day kindergarten, increasing the graduation rate and focusing on STEM – science, technology, math and engineering – coursework. The governor’s plan also freezes college tuition and increases slots in high-tech, high-demand job fields.

"We know your businesses need a workforce that is job-ready," Steuerwalt said.

On the social services side of the governor's budget, the situation gets a little more complicated. The state has recently lost a court case with regard to how the state manages mental health care cases, and is in the midst of another case that questions the state’s response to mental health services within the justice system. Both of these items require additional state spending.

Steuerwalt told attendees the governor is hopeful that a transportation package will pass the Legislature this year. AWB is on the record as supporting a comprehensive transportation package with the right combination of reforms and prioritizing key economic corridors on a project list.

The governor’s cap-and-trade tax plan would also be used to pay for K-12 education and fund the Working Families’ Tax Credit to offset the higher cost of energy, food and other basic necessities that would increase due to this new tax.

With regard to jobs and the economy, Steuerwalt said there are proposals to renew the R&D tax credit that expired last year and some agricultural tax preferences. However, along with these are a handful of tax preferences that he proposes to close.

Steuerwalt hit on the governor’s significant and costly climate and water proposals: The water quality rule (aka: fish consumption) was just released, hazardous materials response legislation, and the cap-and-trade tax that the governor believes will lower carbon emissions. All of these proposals will add to the cost of gas, food and energy.

The governor believes progress on climate issues is necessary and other ideas are welcome, but the debate will be do other proposals go far enough to meet the governor’s goals, Steuerwalt said.

Asked about the capital gains tax proposal, House Bill 1484, Steuerwalt said a good bit of money could be raised from the tax – nearly $1 billion in 2016, when the tax would begin. There will be exemptions to the tax, he told one AWB member, but those will change as discussions move forward.

In closing, Steuerwalt said the group should view the governor's ideas as an attempt to start a conversation on a lot issues. And, that he is committed to getting a transportation package through, investing in education and addressing climate issues this year.

The next Lobby Lunch is scheduled for Feb. 5 at noon. For the full schedule, visit AWB's website.