Revenue forecast shows increases, system request bills heard in higher education committees
With the 2017 legislative session just over the halfway mark, committees got back to work this week hearing bills that were passed by the opposite chamber. Representatives and senators have until March 29 to vote bills out of their policy committees.
The community and technical college system-request bill on corrections education was a highlight of the week as the Senate version was heard in the House Higher Education Committee. Meanwhile, the Senate Higher Education Committee took up system bills to make the Customized Training Program permanent and exempting colleges from paying leasehold excise tax. The Office of Financial Management also released its March revenue forecast which helps inform the first budget draft, expected next week.
State expects revenue increases over next two budget cycles
March 16 — The state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its updated revenue collection projections for the next two biennia, showing a total increase of $571 million. The council expects to see an additional $258 million this budget cycle (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019), and $313 million next budget cycle (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021).
The council expects revenue collections for this biennia, which ends June 30, to be nearly $39 billion with about $2.4 billion in reserves. It forecasts revenue collections for the 2017-2019 biennium to be about $41.6 billion.
House hears Senate version of corrections education bill
March 14 — The Senate’s version of the college system’s requested corrections education bill went for a public hearing before the House Higher Education Committee Tuesday. The bill is the companion to the House version passed by the committee Jan. 24 and by the entire House of Representatives March 1. The Senate bill, however, was amended by the Senate Law and Justice Committee to allow inmates to earn only workforce degrees.
Sen. Maureen Walsh, the bill’s prime sponsor, testified before the House committee in favor of the amended bill’s passage.
“This is important to me. I’ve also got a fantastic community college that does this work with the inmates,” she said. “I think the reality is these folks are going back out into our society, and if we want to make sure recidivism is low, and we want to make sure they’re armed with some resource and ability to be able to obtain a job and get that second chance, if you will. We just think that’s good policy.”
Testifying on behalf of the bill was Mike Paris, educational administrator with the Department of Corrections, and Brian Walsh, policy associate for corrections education with the State Board.
“We appreciate the opportunity to be able to add some more tools to our toolkit to make sure we’re doing all we can to help those that are releasing be productive, tax paying citizens,” Paris said. “We also appreciate the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges for being our partners in this. Together we have done great things and want to do more.”
Paris and Walsh both expressed their agency’s support for the amendment that limited degree offerings to workforce.
“We will be able to continue the programs that we offer at Washington State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, those are our associate degree programs that currently exist. With some modifications, we’ll continue those programs and be able to expand those programs and offer them throughout the state,” Walsh said. “This is a bill that’s focused on how DOC is spending its money and so we think we’ll be able to work very well with those existing programs and be able to expand.”
Also testifying on behalf of the bill was former Rep. Larry Seaquist and Nova Gattman, legislative director for the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
Senate Higher Education Committee takes up bills on Customized Training Program and leasehold excise tax
March 14 — The Senate Higher Education Committee at its hearing Tuesday took up two bills requested by the community and technical college system. SHB 1130 would make the Customized Training Program permanent and EHB 1913 would exempt colleges from paying an excise tax on property leased to vendors that provide food, bookstore, maintenance and operations, and administrative services to the college.
Rep. Larry Haler, prime sponsor of SHB 1130, testified in favor of the bill to make the Customized Training Program permanent. Its Senate companion was voted out of the Senate Higher Education Committee Feb. 7 and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It did not receive a hearing in that committee.
“I think if we’re going to grow businesses in this state, especially the small businesses, I think we need to get rid of that expiration date and make this available to all businesses from here on in,” he said.
Anna Nikolaeva, State Board program administrator for the Customized Training Program, also spoke in favor of the bill. She reminded Senators of her testimony on the Senate companion and reiterated the college system's support for the bill.
Amy Anderson, a government affairs director with the Association of Washington Business, also testified in favor of the bill.
Senators also heard testimony on EHB 1913 which would exempt colleges from paying leasehold excise tax to the state Department of Revenue. The Senate companion was voted out of the Senate Higher Education Committee Feb. 9 and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It did not receive a hearing in that committee.
Rep. Laurie Dolan, the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of its passage. She explained that some colleges had brought in outside vendors to provide services, but, in late 2016 received an excise tax bill from the Department of Revenue for the first time. In order to pay the tax, Rep. Dolan said, colleges would have to raise fees on books and other services to generate enough money.
“We want to keep costs down for our students so that they can stay in school. This bill simply asks for that exemption on behalf of community and technical colleges,” she said.
John Boesenberg, deputy executive director of business operations at the State Board, also spoke in favor of the bill. The primary difference between the House version and the Senate version heard by the committee in February, he said, is that the House version does not include universities in the exemption.
“You heard from the prime sponsor, Rep. Dolan, this is new to our colleges as our colleges thought there were people who were better at running some of these operations than we were — running our bookstores, running our food service operations, primarily. We contracted with them, and then found out late last year that we owed taxes under the current law,” he said. Boesenberg reiterated that costs would be passed down to students in order to cover any tax excise tax due to the Department of Revenue.
Coming up next week
Senate Republicans are expected to release their budget next week, the first draft of what's expected to be contentious negotiations given the state Supreme Court's deadline to fully fund K-12 education in this biennial budget. The Senate version of the college system's requested corrections education bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Higher Education Committee on March 21 or 22.