OLYMPIA — Before Gov. Jay Inslee sits down Tuesday to sign a new $52.4 billion state budget, he’s got to decide if there is anything in the two-year spending plan he wants to veto.
In recent weeks, he’s been asked to axe a $750,000 study on the breaching of dams on the Snake River and creation of a legislative task force on the management of fish hatcheries.
And leaders of two state agencies and a state workers union want him to cross out a provision requiring $22.5 million be trimmed from department budgets through “efficiency” savings.
“These cuts are substantial,” wrote Dennis Eagle, director of legislative and political action for the Washington Federation of State Employees. “Our concern is there don’t seem to be a lot of ‘efficiencies’ left to be achieved in state government. Human services, public safety, natural resources and higher education were all cut dramatically during the recession and have yet to see their budgets restored to pre-recession service delivery levels.”
Those aren’t the only veto requests Inslee is weighing as he prepares to act on the operating budget. He’s also been asked to remove a piece of the new transportation budget and veto legislation to increase taxes on banks, professional services businesses, vaping products and nonresidents. All of the bills are set for signing starting Tuesday morning.
Agency chiefs are concerned with Section 723 of the budget bill, which directs them to achieve a 1 percent savings in each fiscal year by, among other things, reducing “overtime costs, professional service contracts, travel, goods and services, and capital outlays.”
Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair told Inslee in a May 9 letter that it works out to a $5 million cut. And, he wrote, after slashing administrative expenses in each of the last four years at lawmakers’ direction, there are not many areas left to pare.
“DOC does not have the ability to meet this level of reduction without impacting services and programs that help individuals reintegrate to their communities, eroding our mission to improve public safety,” he wrote.
For the state’s 34 public community and technical colleges, it would result in a collective hit of $1.2 million. That’s hard to swallow given cuts endured by the colleges during the recession, officials said. And it’s a little hard to understand given the fact lawmakers raised taxes this year to boost financial aid to college-bound students and to improve salaries of some community college faculty.
“It’s counterproductive to give us money and then take money away, ” said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
The proposed study of issues associated with the breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams drew fire from nearly three-dozen organizations.
“This issue remains profoundly controversial and divisive,” begins a May 10 letter from 33 organizations including port districts, utility districts, power providers, the Washington Farm Bureau and the Association of Washington Business.
They argue the Snake River is a vital component of the transportation and agricultural sectors of the economy of the surrounding region and because the dams are federally owned, “state measures to remove them are the wrong approach.”
The Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Union of Operating Engineers each wrote separately imploring Inslee to veto the study. They stressed the same points.
“These dams play a vital role providing jobs and clean power for Washington state, clean power that will be essential as our state transitions into a 100 percent clean energy future,” wrote Mark Riker, executive secretary for the building trades council.
The Muckleshoot Tribal Council asked Inslee on May 8 to veto a proposed legislative task force that would consider replacing the existing hatchery scientific review group with some other kind of panel to analyze hatchery-related spending. Such a move could violate tribal treaty rights, they noted.
Regarding transportation, mayors and administrators of 15 small cities — including Granite Falls and Coupeville — want the governor to remove language which restricts the Transportation Improvement Board’s discretion in its distribution of grant dollars to communities. A state senator also asked for a veto.
“Without the necessary flexibility to respond to the needs of our cities and counties, the board’s effectiveness is seriously limited,” wrote state Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, who represents Granite Falls.
Inslee received a couple requests urging him to sign a new tax on vaping products. Hundreds of members of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternative Association emailed to ask him not to sign House Bill 1873.
Five lawmakers — four Republicans and one Democrat — asked Inslee to veto House Bill 2167, which would effectively double the tax rate paid by the largest banks operating in the state. The group includes Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the lead budget writer for Senate Republicans, and Sen. Mark Mullett, D-Issaquah, who is chairman of the Financial Institutions, Economic Development and Trade Committee.
Their chief beef is the speed with which the bill went through the process. Its language was offered for the first time April 26 and the legislation had passed in the House and Senate two days later, hours before the session ended. They cautioned it may become the object of litigation.
“To describe this as a rush job with no time for adequate policy consideration or public input is a huge understatement,” they wrote. “Legislators were deprived of the opportunity to make the considered and informed decision expected of them in their position.”
They recounted that when Inslee blocked a tax break for certain manufacturing companies two years ago, he wrote in his veto message that tax policies “should be considered in a thoughtful, transparent process that incorporates public input and business accountability.”
“We ask you to employ that same reasoning in vetoing (Substitute House Bill) 2167,” they concluded.