Big issues, including transportation, pending as 2014 session winds down to adjournment

March 11, 2014

State senate lawmakers put in some overtime on Saturday to clear their concurrence calendar—actions on bills that were passed with changes by the opposite chamber. They also passed SB 5887 to merge the state’s medical marijuana system with the use of recreational marijuana as approved by voters in Initiative 502. The bill would reduce the amount of marijuana and the number of plants patients can possess, does away with collective gardens and establishes a patient registry. Passing by a vote of 34-15, the measure garnered the supermajority support required to amend an initiative and now goes to the House, which passed a similar bill last month.

The medical marijuana bill is just one of the measures that needs to be settled between the House and the Senate before lawmakers go home on Thursday, March 13th  

The House and Senate are still more than $100 million apart on a supplemental operating budget, including the question of whether to provide cost-of-living pay increases to school employees. Many school employees have already received pay raises from local districts.  The $700 million bonding proposal for the construction of additional K-3 classrooms passed by the House is awaiting Senate action, and a number of specific construction projects in the supplemental capital budget are also in dispute.

Student test scores to meet the teacher evaluation criteria required by federal programs that are worth $40 million to Washington schools are still on the table. The issue was revived in two bills, HB 2800 and SB 5880, after a teacher evaluation bill failed to pass the Senate last month.

One of the biggest issues is the transportation package that is being negotiated between the Senate Majority Coalition and House and Senate Democrats. The Majority Coalition Caucus has proposed a $12.3 billion package, with an 11.5 cent per gallon hike in the gas tax and a provision that would delete the state sales tax on public transportation projects. The proposal would also shift stormwater control funding from the gas tax to a Department of Ecology hazardous substances tax.

House and Senate Democrats propose a $10.5 billion package with a 10.5 cent per gallon gas tax increase and no sales tax exemption or budget shifts.

To break the apparent impasse in negotiations, Senator Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), Vice Co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has proposed a package that would put $12 billion into transportation projects, including $837 million more for bike and transit programs than the other proposals.  An 11.75 cent per gallon gas tax increase would be phased in with 4.25 cents in 2015, 4.0 cents in 2016 and 3.5 cents in 2017. The sales tax on public transportation projects would still apply to existing projects, but not to new ones, and only $40 million in stormwater control funding would be shifted to the Department of Ecology.