February 12, 2015

Democrats focused on bills, budget as legislative deadlines approach

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0
Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, the House Majority Leader, addresses AWB's Feb. 12, 2015, Lobby Lunch. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
The Legislature has a major policy bill cutoff is coming up next week, House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, told AWB members, which was met with applause.

To which Sullivan responded, "Yes, but then we go into fiscal mode, which is always a lot of fun as well."

Sullivan was joined at the weekly Lobby Lunch gathering by House Democratic Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and House Democratic Majority Floor Leader Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.

With a focus on moving bills out of House committees to await a floor vote or consideration in the House Appropriations Committee, debates on issues will be abbreviated at this point in the legislative session.

"We look forward to working with you, as always," Sullivan said. "As we move from that transition from the policy cutoff to the fiscal cutoff, again, our doors are open to have those conversations to see how we can better serve the business community."
Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, addresses the Feb. 12, 2015, AWB Lobby Lunch crowd. 

The Senate passed Senate Bill 5064, which is now being considered in the House Appropriations Committee, to move the state revenue forecast from March to February. This is a move lawmakers want made to ensure budget talks started earlier in the 105-day session as a way to avoid special legislative sessions to finish the state operating budget.

"If you want to see a good budget, that will take time. But our goal is to move forward as quickly and responsibly as we can," Sullivan said.

In addition to the state operating budget, Sullivan said he heard rumblings over in the other chamber, "something about transportation," he said.

Originally, the luncheon was billed as a Senate and House Democratic leadership discussion, but turned into a House Democratic event instead. Senate Democratic leaders, AWB members learned, were in last-minute negotiations on a bipartisan transportation funding package that would be released at 3 p.m.

Sullivan said he knows a transportation funding package is a priority for AWB and for everyone in the room. All three lawmakers, he said, want to see a transportation package passed and they have taken votes on the House floor twice in support of a package.

"That being said, I want to be up-front and honest with you. It's very difficult to vote for billions of dollars for transportation at the same time that we sit with a contempt order over our heads and struggle to find the revenue to amply provide for our education system," Sullivan said.

Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, talks during the Feb. 12, 2015, AWB Lobby Lunch.
The conversations on how to move forward on the operating budget must take place before a transportation funding package can move forward, he said.

Despite employers already paying 54 percent of taxes in the state, employers are concerned that new and higher taxes will be part of the final budget compromise.

Lytton responded that bipartisan, bicameral work is being done on the budget. But, with the McCleary, fires, and three lawsuits that will increase state spending obligations, the general consensus in her caucus is that in order to balance the budget lawmakers will need new revenue.

"I just don't see any other way," she said.

Initiative 1351 could also be a big-ticket item, which is an issue that leads lawmakers and education advocates to talk of higher taxes.

Sullivan said talks with lawyers and fellow lawmakers are going on with regard to how to address I-1351.

Basic education components of the initiative may not be able to be amended, but non-basic education items may give lawmakers leeway, he explained.

The governor's proposal of a cap-and-trade tax on carbon is being debated as one source of revenue.

Of that proposal, Sullivan told the group, "Conversations are happening on the concept. From a revenue perspective, we need to remain flexible."

In explaining the prospect of bills such as the one to increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour passing the House, Moeller told attendees that while bills like that may make it out of committee, there is no guarantee they will pass the House.

"When majorities are so narrow," Moeller explained, "extremes seem to fall off and lawmakers tend to govern more toward the middle."

Sullivan said there is concern that not doing something on minimum wage could have ramifications at the ballot box. His goal, he said, is to move the bills forward and send them over to the Senate for consideration.

"The question I ask is, would you rather take a chance with an initiative or solve the problem here? It's much better to solve our problems in Olympia than at the ballot box," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the House Democratic Caucus' goal is to get out on time - 105 days. Which, he added, would generate a unanimous vote in the House.

"We're already well into session. Time is ticking," Sullivan said. But, he said, everyone recognizes that lawmakers are going to have to accommodate, give some and move toward each other to ensure they are done on time and with a product that works for the citizens of Washington.