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Published on Friday, May 1, 2015

Will this extra session be "special" and helpful to cities?

After almost 105 days of the regular legislative session, legislators are back for a special session to last no more than 30 days. On April 23, Governor Inslee called legislators back to Olympia beginning April 29. His proclamation outlined what needs to be accomplished – basically adopting the 2015-17 biennial operating, capital, and transportation budgets and bills needed to implement these budgets. He also wants passage of critical policy bills, which likely include a transportation package and anything else he and legislative leaders can agree upon.

Here are some interesting facts about the special session.

  • According to Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s website, “The legislative cycle is two years long. Within that two-year cycle, there are two kinds of legislative sessions: Regular sessions and extraordinary, or special, sessions. Regular sessions are mandated by the State Constitution and begin the second Monday in January each year. Extraordinary sessions are called by the Governor to address specific issues, usually the budget. There can be any number of extraordinary sessions within the two-year cycle, and they can last no more than 30 days.”
  • The Legislature is under order by the state Supreme Court to adequately fund K-12 education and is subject to sanctions or penalties if they fail to do so. Late last week, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the Court would continue to hold off on “consideration of contempt sanctions and other remedial measures” until after the end of special session. A report on how legislators act must be filed the day following adjournment.

Now some thoughts about why extra time is needed and what might be accomplished.

Legislators continue to work on several key budget decisions – like school funding, a transportation package, and basic state services. The House is controlled by one party and the Senate by the other – both by narrow margins. They have some different priorities and perspectives and have each been waiting for the other side to blink.

Even though the state has more revenue for this biennial budget, their obligations have also expanded. In particular, the state must adequately fund its paramount duty: K-12 education. Costs and demands for other services and programs continue to rise, and both House and Senate leadership agree more spending is needed. They just haven't yet agreed on what, for how much, and whether new revenues need to be added to the mix.

AWC’s top priorities remain under active consideration in this special session. House and Senate budget proposals differ only slightly on continued shared revenues with the House fully funding shared liquor taxes. The Senate continues the 50% cut in local liquor taxes from last biennium and sweeps the Fire Insurance Premium Tax shared with cities. We are encouraged that serious work is happening to negotiate and pass a significant transportation package. Both chambers propose funding Public Works Trust Fund projects but differ on future funding. We need to stay focused on making sure the program stays viable. Legislators did pass, and the Governor signed, a bill that regulates medical marijuana to better align with regulations governing recreational marijuana. Left to be acted upon is how the state will spend marijuana taxes and how much they'll share with cities and counties.

Not all legislators are hanging around the Capitol right now. Special session expenses come from already appropriated legislative funds, so the longer they're in town and the more of them here, the more it costs. It seems that leadership and those directly involved in budget negotiations are the ones in Olympia, while most other legislators are staying home until called back to review and act upon proposed deals.

It’s an opportune time to connect with your legislators who are home or in Olympia. Legislators want to know what’s most important to their constituents as they seek to conclude this challenging session.