Coronavirus concerns overshadow last day of legislative session, as majority Democrats pass record-high supplemental spending

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The final gavel came down at about 8:15 p.m. Thursday night to adjourn this year’s scheduled regular 60-day legislative session. Lawmakers are heading home this weekend, but increasing concerns over the public health and economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak may bring them back to Olympia for a special session.

Reaching agreement on a supplemental spending plan for the 2019-21 budget period has been key to finishing the session on time. Majority House and Senate Democrats passed their respective proposals last week, followed by lead budget writers meeting behind closed doors to iron out differences between the proposals.

The final budget agreement released on Wednesday proposed some pull-back on spending increases, but still added about one billion dollars to the already record $52.5 billion level of spending in the state budget. A key late decision was to put nearly $900 million of the $1.5 billion of anticipated increase in 2019-21 tax revenue into the states “rainy day” fund. This contrasts with the original proposals, which would have spent nearly all of this surplus money, leaving only a $10 million ending balance to be added to state reserves.

The budget plan agreement, designated as “Conference Report on SB 6168,” was adopted and the final bill was passed along partisan-lines in both chambers. All Republicans voted against it, and Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon (Mason County) joined Senate Republicans in the “No” vote.

Republicans said they were “glad to see that majority Democrats reduced their [higher] spending proposals somewhat and have added more money to the reserves accounts,” but said the pull-back is not nearly enough, citing the real potential for increased costs and an economic downturn in the coming months due to the coronavirus crisis across the state, the nation, and the world.

As the legislature wrapped up its work on dozens of last-minute bills, Governor Inslee early in the week announced emergency measures he is imposing to fight the spread of the virus in the state, including closing K-12 schools in the state’s three most populous counties for at least six weeks. He extended the mandatory closures to schools in all counties today.

Responding to the escalating concerns about the virus, lawmakers yesterday voted unanimously to make $175 million more available to state agencies, local governments, and federally recognized Indian tribes to fight the spread of the virus. They also provided another $25 million to help businesses hurt by the economic fallout of the disease. The $200 million total was included in the final budget bill.

Another key issue before final adjournment of this session was a measure to repeal a preferential business-and-occupation tax rate for the Boeing Company and hundreds of other aerospace businesses that the World Trade Organization (WTO) targeted as an illegal trade subsidy. The repeal prevented retaliatory tariffs by the WTO that would have affected the rest of Washington’s international trade activities. The Boeing Company asked that these tax breaks be restored, once the WTO trade dispute has been resolved.

As passed, however, SB 6690 would restore only a portion of the tax break if the company and the rest of the state aerospace industry meets certain conditions, such as work force development in the form of expanded, mandatory apprenticeship programs. The bill passed by large majorities in both the House (73-24) and the Senate (45-4).

Visit washingtonvotes.org to see how legislators voted on the issues that interest you, and look for our end-of-session Missed Votes Report to be released next week.