10:45 p.m. "public" hearing with no public testimony, surprised?

February 14, 2014

Lawmakers work long hours on your behalf, sometimes late into the night. One of these instances occurred on Monday when lawmakers held a public hearing at 10:45 p.m. on HB 2244. Perhaps it was due to the late hour of the public hearing or the fact the bill wasn't listed on the committee agenda for the day/night, but no one showed up to testify on the bill.

Here was the reaction of the Chair to this fact.

So why would anyone care about the changes proposed by HB 2244? As noted here by staff, if adopted without amendment it would blow a big hole in the state's 4-yr balanced budget outlook.

The "solution" adopted? Further gutting the state's 4-yr balanced budget requirement (McCleary spending already exempted).

As discussed in the committee executive session the next day (shown here) an amendment was adopted that would:

For purposes of complying with the requirement to enact a four-year balanced budget during the 2013-15 biennium, resources available in the 2015-17 biennium include the revenues re-directed to the Public Works Assistance Account and transferred to the Education Construction Fund under the bill. In preparing the budget outlook for budgets enacted for the 2013-15 biennium, estimated revenues for the 2015-17 biennium include the revenues re-directed to the Public Works Assistance Account and transferred to the Education Construction Fund under the bill. An emergency clause with an immediate effective date is added to the changes relating to the four-year balanced budget requirement and outlook.

Translation, some capital funds would count as operating resources for purposes of complying with the state's 4-yr balanced budget requirement.

Is this just a regular budget gimmick or a felony gimmick? I've asked that question of the State Treasurer and Office of Financial Management and will update this post once I hear back.

Updated 3:15 p.m. (2/14)

Here is the comment from OFM:

HB 2244 wasn’t requested by the Governor and it is not OFM’s place to describe proposals as a budget gimmick. But the outlook already contains an exemption for McCleary spending and an artificial revenue assumption. The outlook is a useful tool for forcing budget writers to think longer term, but its value in informing the public about the budget situation is limited. For example, our early estimates place the 2015-17 budget problem at around $2 billion.

Updated 12:35 p.m. (2/18)

Here is a statement from Senate Majority Leader Tom:

HB 2244 is another Olympia budget gimmick that has been responsible for years of deficit spending. In 2012 when we passed the 4-year balanced budget legislation, it was to get away from the very games that HB 2244 promulgates. Creating artificial monopoly money doesn’t work for families, and it certainly shouldn’t be practiced at the state level. We need to prioritize and live within our means, instead of falling into the political trap of creating self-inflicted deficit spending. Creating deficits today forces higher taxes tomorrow, and that’s not the pathway to economic development and a vibrant jobs market.   

Sen. Tom was one of the original sponsors of the 4-yr balanced budget bill (SB 6636).

Updated 8:05 a.m. (2/20)

Here is the comment from State Treasurer McIntire about HB 2244:

Restoring funding to the PWTF is a laudable goal, but the outlook gimmick is unacceptable. I will get more worried about this if I see it baked into a budget proposal.

HB 2244 was approved in the House 87-11 on Feb 18 and has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.


Shady Government

No agenda listing and a late-night hearing? The people deserve better, Mr. Appropriations Committee Chairman.