WA Legislature heads to special session, starting May 13

Washington State Capitol Legislative Building Dome in Olympia. - Courtesy photo
Washington State Capitol Legislative Building Dome in Olympia.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The Washington State Legislature will begin its sixth special session in the past three years when lawmakers return to Olympia on May 13.

As has been the case in recent years, the biggest fight will continue to be the state budget. The House of Representatives and the Senate produced budgets considered to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum, although both address some of the pressing needs of the state, including the all important fight over education funding.

Gov. Jay Inslee's proposed budget falls somewhere in between the two. Regardless, Inslee said he thinks the budget battle could end up being protracted in this special session.

"I will tell you, the parties are not miles apart at the moment. They are light years apart," Inslee said at an April 29 press conference at which he announced the special session. "And we have a lot of work to do to get people to move to where we will need to reach a consensus here."

The House and Senate budgets began the long project of "fully funding" education by 2018 as handed down from the State Supreme Court's decision in the McCleary case. Each appropriated approximately $1 billion or more for education funding.

The House budget has been criticized because it makes this "down payment" on McCleary by closing tax exemptions on a variety of businesses and products in the state and pulls from the state's "rainy day" fund.

The Senate budget was blasted by Inslee and others because it begins the process of funding education by freeing up money with the elimination of various programs and agencies that serve underprivileged adults and children.

State Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) issued a statement that called for collaboration and passing a bipartisan budget.

“I am disappointed that we couldn’t come to a consensus on a budget and that a costly special session was needed. It is possible for us to create a budget that funds our priorities and pays for a world class education," Kochmar said. "My colleagues in the Senate demonstrated how this budget could be written — and without raising taxes on our already hardworking families."

For Federal Way, the special session won't be as big of a monkey wrench in local budget planning.

"While an extended or special session is not entirely unexpected, the lack of a final budget will require a tiered set of assumptions regarding changes in state funding for public education," said Sally McLean, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for Federal Way Public Schools. "These tiered assumptions have domino effects on program planning, hiring and staffing changes."

As McLean has noted in recent Federal Way School Board meetings, 2013 will probably mark the first time since the economic downturn began in 2008, that education funding will trend upward in the state.

"We are pleased, of course, that the domino effects are anticipated to be reflective of an upward trend in funding," she said.

The extended session's timing doesn't have as significant of an effect on the city's budget planning process, but Federal Way will still keep an eye on the proceedings in Olympia, said city spokesman Chris Carrel.

"Several city priorities are awaiting funding decisions in the final budget," Carrel said. "Those include funding requests for the Triangle (I-5 interchange) and Critical Capacity (sewer pipeline) projects, as well as the performing arts and conference center, and funding for the metal theft prevention legislation the city is requesting."


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