Legislative Update: Highlights and Lowlights
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.
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).
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.