It's a Wrap! 2018 Legislative Session Recap

March 9, 2018

State lawmakers end turbulent session with passage of key budget and school funding bills. Bill to amend initiative on use of force by law enforcement passes before the initiative does.

It’s a wrap. The 60-day 2018 Regular Session of the Legislature ended on schedule just after 10 p.m. last night. This is the first time in many years that lawmakers completed their work on time, without added special session days.

The session was fast-paced, with Democrats narrowly controlling both chambers this year. Some 320 bills, out of more than 1,400 introduced this session, made it through the legislative process and await action by the Governor before they are enacted into law. The remaining measures, are now dead for the 2017-18 legislative cycle, unless unexpectedly revived in a special session later this year.

In floor action on the last day, House and Senate Democrats pushed through a supplemental operating budget package that was agreed upon by leadership and made available for review less than a day before the votes were scheduled. The House and Senate had passed sharply different versions of their proposal to adjust the 2017-19 state spending plan approved with bi-partisan votes last year.

SB 6032, the reconciled version of the supplemental budget bill, passed the Senate on final passage by a vote of 25-24, and the House by a vote of 55-44. Overall, the budget agreement increases 2017-19 General Fund spending levels to $44.6 billion, and total spending from all funds to $89 billion. The state’s latest revenue forecast projects increased tax collections of some $1.3 billion through 2021. This is the highest level of public spending in the history of the state.

Two major tax increases sought by Governor Inslee, a capital gains income tax and a carbon energy tax, failed to gain support and died before week’s end.

A modest property tax relief measure, SB 6614 narrowly passed both houses during the last two days of session. This bill provides for $391 million in property tax reductions for 2019. Property owners will be hit with steep tax bills this year resulting from last year’s approval by legislators of a significant increase in the state property tax rate.

The bill would pay for the property tax relief by redirecting funds that would normally go into the state’s rainy day reserve fund to the Education Legacy Trust Account. The state Constitution requires that most of the money collected during periods of extraordinary general state revenue growth be deposited into the reserve account, and that any withdrawals from the account requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

The move by Democrats to bypass the rainy day fund drew sharp criticism from Republicans during debate on the bill. They said this maneuver not only jeopardizes the future economic health of the state, but was intended to eliminate the need for Republican votes, or input on the budget agreement.

Another move to skirt the constitution came when Democrats advanced HB 3003 to a final vote. The bill amends a proposed initiative, I-940 that deals with the use of force by law enforcement.

Under the state constitution, the Legislature may pass an initiative or propose an alternative, both of which then go to before voters at the next general election.

Lawmakers did neither. Instead, they passed an amended version of the initiative, denying voters a chance to vote on the original initiative or any proposed alternative. The Legislature’s unprecedented action may draw a court challenge.