Posts Tagged ‘2013 Legislature’

A Divided Legislature

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

By Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council 

When Senators Rodney Tom (LD 48) and Tim Sheldon (LD 35), with much fan-fare, broke with the Senate Democratic Caucus and formed the Senate Republican Majority Coalition Caucus (RMCC), their message was that the Senate would run in a truly bi-partisan fashion – the state Senate would break new ground and govern from the middle.

That didn’t last long. Policy bills attacking the injured worker safety net, family leave insurance, paid safe and sick leave, public employee pensions, part-time public employee health benefits, collective bargaining for teachers, etc., etc., stacked up in the Rules Committee and the Senate floor waiting action. Rather than governing from the middle, the RMCC was clearly waging an attack on the middle class.

When the RMCC unveiled their “no new revenue” operating budget the charade was complete. “Bi- partisanship” became a mask for a seriously divided legislature and “reform” became code for long sought partisan policy changes.

Taking a page out of the Republican play book in Congress, the RMCC held the operating and capital budgets hostage to a list of 33 policy bills that had no real connection to the budget.

A particular favorite was SB 5127. This bill would have expanded the age at which seriously disabled injured workers could enter into “compromise and release agreements”, a step towards privatizing our workers’ compensation system. SB 5127 was offered up in exchange for various revenue bills, including Brakken and Telecon, and some say for the transportation revenue package. A serious game of whack a mole played out during the two “Special Sessions” as SB 5127 kept popping up as trading bait.

The Department of Labor and Industries announced in June that the original 2011 fiscal note booking savings from “compromise and release” agreements had been grossly exaggerated to the tune of $250 million. Despite that, he RMCC blindly went forward arguing that SB 5127 would save the workers’ compensation system and the business community great sums of money. Apparently the RMCC favors the adage of never allowing facts to get in the way of a good political argument.

The great irony of the session is that many of the working family policies that came under attack, like family leave insurance and paid safe and sick leave, are common sense middle ground policies that historically enjoy huge public support and are part of the “common good” in most of our major international trade agreements. In 2013 it shouldn’t be this difficult to enact family friendly employment policies.

The great tragedy of the session was the refusal of the RMCC to take up the voting rights act and access to state higher education financial aid for “dreamers”. A measure of the character of our state is in the way we address fundamental civil rights. In both cases the RMCC failed our state. Communities of color ought to have a mechanism in place that allows them to challenge a voting system that, for all intents and purposes, excludes their representation of choice. “Dreamers,” the children of immigrant workers, who contribute to the richness of our communities and the hopes for our future, should have the financial opportunity to attend institutions of higher education in our state.

Another great tragedy of the session was not passing the transportation revenue package. The package was open to adjustments all throughout the legislative sessions but there was no desire on the part of the RMCC to pass any package. Given there was no vote in the Senate and only one Republican vote in the House, it is clear that the business community had no impact for their efforts.

If we lose $850 million of federal money for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge, and have to pay back to the federal government another $170 million, we will have made a bad decision of colossal proportions. The CRC is critical to the economic vitality of the Pacific Northwest and Washington State.

Finally, passing a transportation package would have been the best thing we could have done to put people back to work and to generate future revenue for our State’s operating budget and needs.

In the final analysis the legislature increased funding to K-12 education by about $1 billion but did so not by eliminating tax exemptions for the wealthy, as championed by the Governor and the House Democrats, but rather by sweeping the public works trust and other accounts, not paying the I-732 COLAs, and relying on increased revenue projections and falling case load projections. We had an opportunity to do so much more if the RMCC had been open to closing the income disparity gap some. They were not, and are not likely to be in the future.

The battle now shifts to educating the public in various legislative districts. This is where we can make a difference.

Jeff Johnson is also a PSARA member 

Legislative Update: Highlights and Lowlights

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

By Pam Crone, PSARA lobbyist 

The 2013 Legislature at long last ended its business on Saturday, June 28 on the 153rd day, after a regular session of 105 days and two overtime “special” sessions. In odd years, the Legislature’s primary job is to pass an operating budget for the next biennium. Although it took an inordinate amount of time for the legislators to accomplish that job, they finally did. The results are a mixed bag, with definite highlights and lowlights.

For PSARA the 2013 session introduced an era of deeper involvement in Washington State legislative work. PSARA hired me as a “contract lobbyist” to advocate for PSARA’s legislative priorities. Together we brought PSARA members’ voices to Olympia advocating to make Washington State a safer, healthier place for our seniors, their children and their families.

Highlights: 

Our new biennial budget fully expands Medicaid, restores adult Medicaid dental coverage while protecting health programs and the larger social safety net. This final budget books $351 million in savings from Medicaid expansion. This reflects the full commitment of the Governor, Senate, and House that Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Washingtonians. The budget raises revenue by restoring the estate tax ($159 million) and by changing the way the telecommunication industry is taxed ($99 million).

Lowlights: 

Legislators steered way off course by creating $15 million dollars in additional tax breaks. In sum, 17 loopholes were newly enacted or extended. These “loopholes” are a prime example of the yawning gap between the House and Senate in their approach to building a revenue solution that addresses the long term economic well-being of our state and its citizens.

At one point during the session the House had proposed eliminating tax loopholes and extending current taxes that would have led Washington State toward a more sustainable budget. Had this proposal been adopted it would have provided resources we need for a first rate educational system and other services that assist Washington families. It was a non-starter in the Senate.

To wit: our Legislature yet again failed to support working families by failing to move forward with funding our family leave insurance program. Nor did they see fit to ensure workers are able to take paid time off work when they are ill, need to care for a sick family member, or need to cope with the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

In fact, the Senate went so far as to try to preempt local governments from enacting ordinances similar to Seattle’s providing Paid Sick and Safe Days to workers. And the Senate attempted to place geographic limitations on Seattle’s ordinance as well. PSARA was part of the coalition that successfully fought off these attempts to curb worker leave protections. Successful lobbying involves both offense (pressing for social reform legislation) and defense (preventing bad legislation from passing).

The biggest disappointment of this extra-long session may have been the failure to pass a transportation revenue package despite strong leadership by Governor Inslee and the House. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus blocked this action. Because of this failure, King County cannot send a car tab tax to the local ballot. The immediate consequence will be cuts by Metro to routes and services. As you know, this will disproportionally impact seniors and working families dependent on bus service to access services and jobs.

In summary, we can claim a huge victory on the healthcare front by our state’s decision to provide healthcare to 300,000 people who do not currently have it by expanding Medicaid. We also made a “down payment” on our paramount duty to fund basic education. We’ll return in 2014 to continue to advocate for all of our families to ensure they have the opportunities they need to be healthy and prosper.