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About this “long” 2023 session

By January 6, 2023January 10th, 2023Blog

Friends —

This year’s legislative session begins Monday! Missed our legislative priorities? Don’t worry.

This session is what many refer to as a “long” session—because it lasts longer than even-yeared “short” sessions. The long and short of it is (see what we did there?), together, they make a “biennium,” a two-year budget window. That means this year, legislators will craft the next two-year budget (which begins near the end of session).

😑 But…Y Tho

Many argue that biennial budget planning helps with long-term stability, forecasting, and analyses. Joke’s on them, because there’s no clear evidence on whether or not one- or two-year budgets are better.

What we do know is that biennial cycles are supposed to focus on major programmatic and budget decisions in the first year, and then in-depth evaluation of agencies and departments in the second.

2 things to know about budgeting:

  1. 87% of the state budget is already set by the constitution, meaning that the legislature will fight over the remaining 13%.Upshot: we should argue for a bigger pie (not just over pieces!), which means arguing for the richest people in Washington to pay their share
  2. The total budget amount legislators, departments, and programs fight over are revenue predictions, AKA estimates without a crystal ball (nobody can predict the unpredictable)Upshot: There will be lots of chatter about forecasts limiting our choices, but those rely on a tax code that generates revenue off the backs of the working class (AKA sales taxes). See 1’s Upshot.

🧠 How It Works

1️⃣ The Governor (Jay Inslee) sets the table—his proposed budget already dropped! This is largely most important for maintenance and operations.

2️⃣ The Senate and House create their own budgets. It’s every legislators’ job to politick, whip votes, and advocate in Committees for their funding priorities. Legislative leaders, backbench members, and Appropriations/Ways & Means Committees work from there, debating over line items and proposals. Any bill’s “fiscal note” is its could-be line item in the overall budget.

  • 💪This window—the first 4-8 weeks of session—is where you have maximum leverage! If your bill (that requires funding) is a priority, this is the time to secure champions and commitments.

3️⃣ Budgets get provisos. Provisos are conditions on spending (like a max spending limit, or county specifics), and/or temporary authorizations for use of certain state dollars. There’s really no public input on proviso decisions. Instead, provisos are the backdoor ways to fund the stuff legislators couldn’t get passed during the open-door part of session. Each chamber offers provisos based on what each of them want to prioritize. Most provisos fund studies in preparation for some hopeful legislation in a year or three, or de facto implement a failed bill that is regardless largely supported or desired.

  • 🤓 Budget provisos are a minuscule fraction of the budget, but they’re important because they set stuff up for the future (see: 2020’s GBI committee).

4️⃣ Reconciliation between all the budgets with their provisos. Now, the House Appropriations Committee Chair, Timm Ormsby (D-3), and the Senate Ways and Means Chair, Christine Rolfes (D-23), get together over hashbrowns and negotiate their chambers’ budget differences. AKA Caucus staff compile provisos requested by every member for a briefing so that legislators can weigh capital and operating budgets. The real goal, though: Ensure every district can get something, and make every legislator feel a little bit happier with the results.

5️⃣ Everyone in both chambers votes again on the reconciled package, sending it to the governor to sign.

  • ☠️ Sometimes the governor hates it (or, in legalese, finds it “meaningfully different” from what he set out in 1️⃣). So he pulls out a big veto stamp. Or in recent controversy, he pulls out a bunch of wittle baby veto stamps and rejects certain parts of the budget. The latter is highly irregular and maybe unconstitutional. TBD. Either way, no one wants to get to this point because if the governor doesn’t sign the budget, he’ll simply extend session. This is a pretty big threat because, by May, everybody really wants to go home already.

Need a refresher on how a bill becomes law? Click here.


What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @WACommAlliance.
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