No decision on tax and spending bills as legislative session heads into final days

Apr 24, 2019

Lawmakers in Olympia have just four days left to act on a two-year tax and spending plan before this year’s scheduled 105-day session ends on Sunday, April 28th. The House and Senate, which are controlled by Democrats, have passed their own versions of a $52 billion-plus two-year state operating budget, and legislative leaders are still negotiating behind the scenes to work out an agreement for a final plan.  If enacted as proposed, this would be the first $50 billion-plus tax and spending plan in the state’s history, and the highest level of public spending ever.

House Democrats passed their capital gains income tax proposal out of committee last week, but it has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the full House. House Democrats want to impose the tax to pay for the record new spending proposed in their plan.

Senate Democrats are also considering the capital gains income tax, but their proposal is not part of their budget plan. Instead, they say the new tax should be used for tax relief for some property owners and small businesses.

The bill numbers for the final versions of the tax and spending measures will likely change, as shown by the many so-called “title-only” bills that have been introduced in the past few days. Such bills are essentially empty shells to serve as vehicles for last-minute legislative changes.

While leaders are negotiating a final budget agreement, the full House and Senate continue to put dozens of bills that were amended and passed in the opposite chamber through the final passage process. This “concurrence” step involves either agreeing or refusing to agree to such amendments.

The Senate concurred on House amendments to SB 5116, the so-called “clean energy” bill proposed by Governor Inslee as part of his “climate-change” agenda, and sent the bill to the governor for his signature with a 29-20 vote on final passage.

On another “climate change” bill, the House refused to agree to Senate amendments on HB 1112, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigerators and other equipment. The Senate backed off its amendments, one of which would have delayed implementation of the bill by a year, and voted to send the bill to the governor with a 30-19 vote on final passage.

A bill to deal with the opioid crisis, SB 5380, which had earlier passed both houses with near-unanimous votes stalled this week when the Senate refused to concur in House amendments to the bill. One of the amendments, introduced by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) last week, would prohibit the state Health Care Authority from working with any public agency that sponsors harmful drug-use sites for the injection of illicit drugs.  If enacted, the amendment would prevent public health dollars going to any city or county that sponsors a public facility for illegal drug use.

The amendment passed on a 60-38 bi-partisan recorded roll call vote, and the bill then passed the House with a 96-2 vote. The two “no” votes on passage came from Seattle-area House Democrats. After both the House and the Senate refused to budge on the amendment, a conference committee to work out an agreement was appointed by both chambers on Tuesday. The bill now will have to go back to both houses to vote on whatever the conference committee agrees on. If an agreement is not reached before the end of the session, the bill would likely die.

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