March 9, 2017

Progress is being made, but session will go longer than 105 days (w/video)

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David Schumacher, director of the governor's Office of Financial Management and Lobby Lunch speaker addressing a room full of attendees. (Photo/Brian Mittge)

Anyone still clinging to the hope that the legislative session would finish in 105 days received some bad news at Thursday's Lobby Lunch.

“Even if everything went perfectly, I cannot imagine the Legislature getting out of session on time,” said Lobby Lunch speaker David Schumacher, director of the governor’s Office of Financial Management.

A divided government makes getting through a legislative session difficult, but the weight of the McCleary court decision adds a level of complexity that makes an on-time ending nearly impossible, Schumacher said.

One of the biggest challenges is local levy and property tax reform, he said.

A bit of good news, Schumacher said, was that lawmakers passed the “levy cliff” bill.

“It was good to see folks working together. I hope it continues,” he said. “There are still big differences in local money. I would keep an eye on that.”

He said that Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan covers more than what the McCleary decision requires, adding emphasis on mentorship and counseling throughout the K-12 system, what he called “wrap-around services” to help lower dropout rates.

Schumacher added that without McCleary, this session would be spoken of as the “biggest year for mental health reform ever.” Inslee’s proposed budget invests $300 million to reshape Washington’s mental health system.

Paying for state employee union collective bargaining contracts is an added wrinkle, Schumacher said. The contracts would give state workers a “modest” 6 percent raise this biennium with a price tag of roughly $700 million, he said.

Some would argue that with all the other required state spending, that may not be the best place to spend that money, he said.

He closed with comments about:

  •  The revenue forecast, which is due to be released next week. Regardless of the forecast numbers, budget analysts are behind where they thought they would be because the collective bargaining contracts were not included in budget projections, he said.
  • An uneven economic recovery in Washington, plus other required spending also adds to today’s budget problems, he said.
  • “We went from the worst economic downturn to just average; we haven’t been able to catch up,” he said. “People in Seattle are seeing a comeback, others are left wondering what has changed.”