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Budgets, Elections, and Deadlines, Oh My!

by Ashley Kittrell | Nov 01, 2017

The 2017 State Legislature adjourned after three special sessions that stretched into July. Passing the biennium budget and addressing the Hirst and McCleary decisions were just a few issues that the Legislature worked to resolve. WSCPA lobbyist, Lisa Thatcher sat down with me to discuss the past legislative session and the upcoming special elections.

"Budgets, Elections, and Deadlines, Oh My!" Transcript

Ashley: Lisa, thank you for joining me today to talk about the 2017 Legislative Session and the elections. It was certainly an interesting legislative session for us; three special sessions were held as the Legislature debated the biennium Capital and Operating budgets. Now the Capital Budget was not passed mainly due to division over how to resolve the Hirst Decision which, as you know, deals with water rights in rural counties.

On the flip side, the Operating Budget was passed just hours before the June 30th deadline and narrowly avoided a government shutdown. There was a lot of controversy over how to fully fund K-12 education as mandated by the McCleary State Supreme Court decision.

What are some perhaps overlooked measures in the Operating Budget that WSCPA members should know about?

So, those were the things that we saw on a daily basis, but what are some perhaps overlooked measures in the Operating Budget that WSCPA members should know about?

Lisa: Well I think there really aren’t any overlooked measures. I think the good news is ultimately when the final package was put together for the Operating Budget there was a revenue component as well. As you mentioned, the McCleary Decision of having to fully fund our education system required additional dollars, and there were lots of options on the table. One of them that we were working on was possibly increasing the B&O tax on services.

There was also possibly a capital gains tax and those were issues that we had looked at—not terribly supportive obviously of the increase in the B&O tax for services—and ultimately those did not pass with the final budget. They found other sources for funding McCleary, so for us, no harm was done for our profession, whatsoever when they actually made the final decision.

What do you expect will happen regarding a Capital Budget?

Ashley: So what do you think will happen regarding a Capital Budget?

Lisa: Well the Capital Budget is—and I take a sigh because that’s been ongoing—they tried to continue into July to see if they could reach a resolution on the Hirst Decision. And as you said, until there was a resolution there, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus felt very strongly about not moving forward on the Capital Budget.

They have had meetings, still nothing has advanced, and I don’t know whether they will or will not do anything before the November election, but, we might talk about elections a little bit in the future, but the Capital Budget really is hinging on the election of the 45th Legislative District. That is a seat that was held by Senator Andy Hill who died due to lung cancer, and so Dino Rossi filled that as kind of just a hold, he wasn’t intending to run for the election and be a senator again.

So we have a special election, and depending on what happens, that may impact the Capital Budget. So one scenario would be if the Democrat was to prevail in that seat it would change the power in the State Senate, and so then the Senate Democrats would control.

I’ve talked to several, my understanding is that they might just come in that very first week of December and pass the Capitol Budget because they would have that decision. They would try to do something around the Hirst Decision, what was last on the table in the House was kind of a delay that would allow people to move forward for a year or two, get their well permits, and then try to figure out what to do moving forward. So they might pass something like that on the Hirst Decision, the Capitol Budget.

The big question then is: would the Republicans give them the two-thirds majority they need for the capitol bonds that go with the budget? But, people have said no, they’re going to hold strong on it, they wouldn’t support the bonds, which, in essence, you can’t have the Capitol Budget without the bonds. I think if the Democrats were to gain majority, I think they would try to do a Capitol Budget quickly.

What are the key races we should be watching?

Ashley: Ok. And you already mentioned a little bit about the elections. So switching gears, there are five vacant seats in the Senate, three in the House. What are some key races that we should be watching?

Lisa: Most of the seats are due to musical chairs. There were senators that took appointments and went elsewhere which opened up their seats so the House member moved up to the Senate, which leaves an open seat in the House. So, I don’t think there’s any anticipation that there’ll be changes for any of those appointees. I think those that were in the Senate will maintain their seats as well as in the House.

The only real key race is one I mentioned is the 45th. And that’s two newcomers, neither one of them have been elected before. And they’re both vying for the seat in the Senate. And depending on who wins, the Senate will either stay controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus, or the Senate Democrats will control it.

How do you think the outcome of the elections will affect the makeup of the 2018 Legislature? 

Ashley: Right, and that could be very significant for many reasons. How do you think beyond that then, the elections will affect the makeup of the 2018 Legislature? Is it staying in just that one seat they’re vying for in the Senate, or will other reasons play a factor?

Lisa: Um, the races won’t play a factor, but if the Democrats take control of the Senate, they then have the opportunity to change the committee structures. So they may keep the same committees or they may decide to move them around depending on which of their members they want to have chairs.

So it all kind of gets moved around, so if they were to take that, we don’t know what the committee structures will look like. And also the seats would vary; right now, obviously with the Republicans in control, every committee has more Republicans than Democrats on it. Some of them are by one seat, some of them are by three, four, five seats. So, there will be a reshuffling, so none of the committees will look the same.

They will be adding members, maybe changing them, and then again, that is only dependent on the outcome of the 45th. If the candidate who’s a Republican wins, then it will be pretty much the status quo. And she would probably will then take the seat where Senator Rossi has been on those committees.

Ashley: Great. Well thank you so much for joining me.

Lisa: Thank you.

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