Special session focused on state budget, taxes and workplace policies
If the term “special session” sounds familiar, that’s because it has become nearly a yearly occurrence since the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling made education funding the center of budget debates.
This year, lawmakers headed into the first 30-day special session April 24 after failing to agree on a two-year state operating budget.
The sticking point is taxes — whether to increase them and by how much.
But at the same time lawmakers are debating the budget, they continue to work on a key employer and workforce policy issue: creating a uniform, statewide paid family leave program.
If they can reach agreement, they could end the patchwork of local paid leave programs cropping up across the state.
Looking first at the budget, it’s important to note that since 2013 lawmakers have reached bipartisan agreement on budgets — without a general tax increase —raising K-12 investment by $4.5 billion.
However, the final piece of the education funding puzzle – establishing funding equity among school districts across the state – is more complicated.
The House Democratic Caucus proposed a $44.9 billion spending plan that relies on roughly $3 billion in new and higher taxes, including a 7 percent capital gains tax and a 20 percent increase in business and occupation tax rates for some employers. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in growth because of the economy.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus proposed a $43.3 billion budget plan, which restructures property taxes to equalize education funding across school districts and moves to a per-pupil funding model.
Neither approve of the other’s plan, even though both increase spending by double digits – the Senate by 13 percent and the House by 17 percent – over the current $38.2 billion budget.
Alongside the budget talks, bipartisan negotiations continue with a coalition of employer groups, including AWB, on a statewide paid family leave program.
The parties recognize, particularly in light of the minimum wage initiative that voters passed overwhelmingly last year, that the time is now to find a thoughtful solution on a uniform, statewide paid family leave policy.
An issue as important as paid family leave is best addressed through a collaborative discussion that takes all sizes of business into consideration and meets the needs of employees and their families rather than a one-size-fits-all that would likely come through a ballot initiative.
We’ve reached out to our members, chambers and others for input over the past year to learn what type of paid leave policy would work for employers – small, large and everything in between. And, we will continue to take input as those negotiations, as well as budget and tax discussions, move forward.
But, time is running short.
If the past is any indication, once a budget deal is reached (hopefully soon), the Legislature will move quickly to adjourn.
We know lawmakers, employers and community leaders are grappling with important issues – from education funding to economic development – and as Washington’s oldest and largest business group, AWB is committed to working as a catalyst for common-sense solutions to even our most difficult challenges.
Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business.