2015 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

By Michael Shaw, Chapter Lobbyist

After 176 days, the 2015 legislative session came to an end.  This included a 103-day regular session (adjourning two days early), followed by two thirty day special sessions and ending with a third and final eleven day special session that wrapped up approximately 12:15 on July 10. It was the longest “session” in state history.

In the end, a government shutdown was averted when Governor Inslee signed the operating budget twenty minutes before the July 1 deadline. A new transportation revenue package was passed with projects throughout most of the state. A $3.9 billion capital budget was approved. 

Over the course of the four sessions there were 2,434 bills introduced. This does not include resolutions, memorials, appointments, etc. Of these bills 343 passed both chambers and were sent to the governor for his signature. This represents a 14% passage rate which is down significantly as compared to the last few biennia. At this time there has been one outright veto and thirteen partial vetoes. The bulk of the remaining bills have been signed in law although a few that passed in the waning days of the session still require action.


On the political front there are two races in this off-year. In the 9th District (Pullman, Ritzville), Mary Dye is running for election to complete the term after she was appointed to the position during the special session. It is unlikely there will be a change in party control in that race.

In the 30th District (Federal Way), Carol Gregory is running to complete the term after being appointed to the seat won by Roger Freeman who passed away shortly before the General Election. She has a strong opponent named Teri Hickel. If Mrs. Hickel wins, it will tighten the already slim Democratic majority to 50-48 heading into the short session and the 2016 election cycle. 

Operating Budget

The new operating budget totals $38.2 billion for the 2015-17 biennium or an increase of roughly $4.4 billion. The bulk of these dollars are due to the growing economy with some other amounts due to marijuana tax assumptions, fund transfers, and eliminating and clarifying some tax exemptions. The largest potential problem in the operating budget was the $2 billion in additional operating costs to implement Initiative 1351. This did not include potential capital budget costs. Ultimately the legislature garnered the two-thirds vote requirement to delay implementation of I-1351 for four years. Some of the enhancements in the operating budget include: 

  • Funding to implement the McCleary Decision - $1.3 billion
  • Higher education enhancements - $293 million
  • Health and Human Services - $220 million
  • Early Learning/Childcare - $134 million
  • Funding for 60 additional competency restoration beds at Western State Hospital - $27 million
  • Funding for RSN costs associated with single bed certification (boarding) issues - $50 million


For the first time in ten years significant new funding is being raised and put to into projects throughout the state. Beginning August 1, 2015 an additional seven cents will be added to the gas tax with a second increase of 4.9 cents on July 1, 2016.  Coupled with numerous fees and bonding this creates more than $16 billion in projects and grants over the 16 years of the package. Some of the Connecting Washington projects include:

  • SR 520 Improvements - $1.7 billion
  • I-405 Corridor improvements - $1.3 billion
  • North Spokane Corridor - $1 billion
  • SR 167/SR 509 Puget Sound Gateway - $1.9 billion
  • Ferry capital construction - $302 million
  • Regional Mobility Grants - $200 million
  • Transit project grants - $111 million
  • Bike/Pedestrian projects $89 million
  • Bike/Pedestrian grants - $75 million
  • Safe Routes to School - $56 million
  • Complete Streets - $106 million

There is new revenue authority to allow the Sound Transit Board to develop and propose a package to “complete the spine” of light rail going north to Everett, south to Tacoma, and east to Redmond, and Seattle projects in West Seattle and Ballard, as well as, bus rapid transit on I-405. The authority includes a property tax of up to 25 cents per $1,000 assessed value on a home, a sales tax up to .5% and a motor vehicle excise tax of up to .8% of the value of the car.  The voters in the Sound Transit district will make the final decision on ST3 and the implementation of new revenue.

Finally, the council authority for a Transportation Benefit District was raised from $20 to $40, once the $20 authority has been in place for two years and up to $50 once the $40 authority has been in place for two years. With voter approval this amount can still go up to $100.

Capital Budget

After not passing a supplemental capital budget last year the legislature come back with a $3.9 billion package this year. Funding in the legislation includes:

  • Local & Community Projects - $130 million
  • Housing Trust Fund - $75 million
  • Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program - $55.3 million
  • Flood Plains by Design - $35.5 million
  • Building Communities Fund - $20.8 million
  • Community Behavioral Health Beds - $32 million

Issues of Interest

1)   The Cultural Access local authority legislation passed after many years. This bill allows a county to place a .1% sales tax increase on the ballot for voter approval to go to organization that serve the public through cultural, artistic, scientific or heritage programs. It cannot go onto the ballot until after June 30, 2016. 

Included in the same legislation is an additional .1% sales tax authority that needs voter approval and is aimed at serving and providing housing for people with mental illness, homeless families or youth, veterans and disabled.

2)   Legislation allowing the county to bond against the future motel/motel tax used for housing was passed this year. 

3)   There was no action on any issues related to the property tax limit. A bill was introduced late in the session but it was pulled back. This should continue to be a priority as the state figures out next steps on its property tax/school funding problems.

Looking Forward

The 2016 legislative session starts in less than six months on January 11. This is a 60-day session ending on March 10.  Similar to 2014, it is expected that a supplemental operating budget will be prepared without major changes to the current proposal. A supplemental capital budget is also assumed but, as we saw last year, it cannot be guaranteed.  The supplemental budget would be rather small as compared to the biennial budget.

Regardless of the outcome of the two 2015 elections, the Republicans will still control the Senate and the Democrats will control the House. There is no reason to think any controversial legislation will pass both bodies. Add the upcoming 2016 elections and this will likely be a quiet year.   

It will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Growth Management Act.  Perhaps, that will spark a debate regarding whether the GMA is in need of amendment and whether it is performing as envisioned.

In that spirit, APA Washington Legislative Committee Co-Chair Josh Peters reports that the Chapter will prepare for the upcoming session and future sessions by updating our Legislative Agenda, last adopted by the Board of Directors in 2012. The update will include an implementation strategy to guide how we get our message out to decision-makers and broader community. This work will follow the Chapter’s Strategic Plan update, currently underway, and incorporate the Ten Big Ideas Initiative. The timing is right, considering the upcoming GMA 25th Anniversary Event November 13 in Tacoma.

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