Tax increases and spending issues still undecided as state lawmakers head into final period of this year’s legislative session.

By FRANZ WIECHERS-GREGORY  | 
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Apr 10, 2019

Yesterday, April 9th, was the Legislature’s deadline for bills to gain approval from the opposite chamber’s fiscal and transportation committees. Any bill that did not meet the deadline is likely dead for the year.

Lawmakers’ focus has now shifted from committee action to debate and votes by the full House and Senate on measures that have passed the other chamber. The next deadline for bill action is next Wednesday, April 17th. Thereafter, only budget bills and measures necessary to implement the budget can be considered, along with initiatives to the legislature.

This year’s regular 105-day legislative session is scheduled to end on April 28th. This gives the Legislature, led by majority Democrats, just 18 days to decide on whether to impose new taxes and how to spend the record-level revenue the state is taking in.

While both chambers have passed 2019-21 operating budget proposals that are close in spending levels—$52.8 billion in the House, $52.2 in the Senate, House Democrats say they want to impose a capital gains income tax so they can spend more under their plan. Senate Democrats, in contrast, have proposed a fully-funded budget, while proposing a separate capital gains income tax that would fund limited property and business tax reductions for some taxpayers.

The House Finance Committee had scheduled its capital gains income tax bill, HB 2156, for approval but took no action last Friday. The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a lengthy public hearing on its bill, SB 5961, on Monday, but also took no action.

Senate Democrats also proposed a bill to increase local school taxes, which would reverse a no-tax promise they made in 2017. Lawmakers promised a local tax limit to offset hefty increases in the state property tax for schools. Current law caps local levy dollars at $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value or a levy rate that would generate $2,500 per student, whichever is a lower burden for local taxpayers. The proposed bill, SB 5313, would allow school districts to levy $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or a levy rate that raises up to $3,000 per student. This would result in additional taxes paid by already heavily-burdened property owners, violating the promise lawmakers made in 2017.

In late-night committee action last week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee adopted an amendment to the bill that would limit the extra money teachers receive on top of their base salaries vial local levies. The state teachers’ union quickly voiced its opposition to the amendment, saying it is an attempt to undercut collective bargaining. It said the result is that teacher salaries would effectively be “cut” within several years, that is, not rise as fast as the union would like, even though teachers had received sizable increases this year as a result of the recent state property tax increase.

SB 5313 was passed out of committee, but the sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) said that, given the teachers’ union’s objections, the bill is likely dead. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), said she would continue to press for raising local levy taxes. The House Appropriations Committee passed a similar proposal, HB 2140, out of committee early Saturday morning, but no floor action on the bill has been scheduled so far.

As this year’s regular session winds down, 566 bills out of some 2,200 introduced survived this week’s cut-off deadline. So far this session, 597 bills have passed at least one chamber, 69 bills have passed both houses, and 16 bills have been signed into law.

Stay tuned for the latest happenings in Olympia by visiting washingtonvotes.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter #waleg.

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