Legislature approves $38.2 billion, two-year budget

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 Legislators knew going into this legislative session the compromises necessary to reach agreement on the 2015-17 budget were going to be hard to achieve. The legislature passed the operating budget last night, June 29. The governor is expected to sign the budget sometime today, June 30, the very last day of the fiscal biennium, narrowly avoiding a shut down of government.


Before the 2015 regular session ended, the governor told legislative leaders he would not sign an agreed-upon budget unless it contained a tax increase. The governor and the House majority party both assumed over a billion dollars in new taxes were necessary to fund their spending plans. The final budget instead reflects the budget position of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, balancing the budget without a general tax increase.


The budget also reflects the MCC position on education spending, spending approximately $1.3 billion on K-12 basic education and phasing in major tuition savings for the state’s public university students, reducing tuition by 5 percent this fall, and then by 15 percent for UW and WSU students and 20 percent for Eastern, Western, Central and Evergreen students in the 2016 school year.


Here’s how some key agricultural issues fared in the final budget:


  •  Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP)
    • Legislature fully funded VSP at $7.6 million
  • Wolves
    • Final budget did not include mandates for WDFW to update the wolf management plan or to conduct research on the impacts of wolves on the state’s deer and elk populations, which were supported by WFB.
  • Fair Funding
    • House proposed funding at $2.3 million
    • Senate proposed funding at full level of $4 million
  • Reform of Wildland Fire Fighting
    • Budget provides $648,000 to implement the wildland fire suppression bill, ESHB 2093
  • Ag Dairy Nutrient Management Program
    • $575,000 provided for WSDA voluntary training program for producers in agronomic application of dairy nutrients
  • Tax Preference for Food Processors
    • Final budget reflects extension of B&O tax incentives for food processors (per enacted SB 5698)
  • New Taxes
    • Final budget does not include former House budget proposals for $1.5 billion in new taxes
    • Final budget does not include Capital Gains tax or Carbon tax
  • Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP) 
    • Final budget provides $800,000 of state match for PSNERP (opposed by WFB)
    • Final budget does require WDFW to “consult with and seek, to the maximum extent practicable, consensus on those projects among appropriate landowners, federally recognized Indian tribes, agencies, and community and interest groups” before implementing any projects in Whatcom county.
  • Pesticides
    • Final budget does not include funding (opposed by WFB) for a Department of Health study on creation of a pesticide use reporting and notification program



Transportation Package on the Verge of Passage


Legislators have reportedly agreed to a transportation package to make reforms, raise new revenue, pay for ongoing maintenance and preservation of roadways, and construct new projects.


Yesterday, the Senate passed a 16-year, $16.1 billion transportation revenue package by a vote of 39-9. The new revenues come primarily from an 11.9-cent gas tax increase to be phased in over two years (7 cents in 2015 and 4.9 cents in 2016) and fee increases.


The Senate also took action on many of the reform bills it passed earlier this year.


The plan calls for $8.8 billion to be spent on state and local road projects and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation. The balance sheet can be found here: http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/Budget/Detail/2015/cTBalSheet0629.pdf


The bill still includes language prohibiting agency adoption of a low carbon fuel standard, and Gov. Jay Inslee, a proponent of an LCFS, has said he would sign the package even if it included that provision. LCFS opponents claim that an LCFS is a hidden gas tax that would increase the cost of gasoline substantially.


The House is expected to vote on these transportation-related bills today.




President Obama signs Trade Promotion Authority into law


After three years of lobbying and debate efforts Congress passed the Trade Promotion Authority and President Obama signed the legislation into law June 29, 2015.


Washington Farm Bureau applauds the efforts of its representatives and senators for helping push this critical trade legislation over the finish line.


The state moves more than $15 billion in food and ag products through Washington ports each year. The industry has seen a demand for greater ports capacity to these products to market.


WFB firmly believes that we need an economy that works for ALL of Washington – not just King County. Washington is overwhelmingly trade-dependent, with 40 percent of our workforce affiliated directly or indirectly with the trade sector.




Washington Farm Bureau welcomes new agricultural director


In one of the fastest confirmation processes in recent years, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Derek Sandison as director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture on June 26. This move highlights the importance of the position in our state.


Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Derek Sandison as director effective June 15, 2015.


Sandison, 62, has directed the Wenatchee-based Office of Columbia River within the Washington Department of Ecology since its inception in 2008. Previously, he was Ecology’s central region director and has worked for the agency since 2001.


Sandison was Washington Farm Bureau’s top pick for the job, and met with the Washington Farm Bureau board of directors at their meeting on June 24.


Sandison pledged to uphold the hard work and integrity of the department and the industry.


Washington Farm Bureau wishes Sandison well as he takes the helm of the state agency whose statutory role according to RCW 15.04.400 is “to promote and protect agriculture and its dependent rural community in Washington state.”