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Morning Wire: McCleary, Amazon, Sound Transit

Good morning.

We have some big ticket items on our radar screen: ballots, Amazon, and the Supreme Court. We detail all of those for you in this edition of the Morning Wire.  Of course, our 2017 Re-Wire Policy Conference is also on the horizon. We’re recruiting speakers and sponsors now, so if you want to elevate your thought leadership to the broader policy community, drop me a note.

Now, onto what we’re following in Washington State policy, economy and politics in October, 2017.

1. McCleary at Supreme Court next week

On October 24th, the Supreme Court will hear oral testimony on “Whether the State has met its constitutional duty to fully fund K-12 basic education,” per the Court synopsis. This follows the Court order from October, 2016, directing the legislature to “adopt a complete legislative plan demonstrating how it will fully comply” with the state Constitution “paramount duty” clause by September 1, 2017.

In the post-session legislative report to the Supreme Court, Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Paul Harris argue that legislative action “will result in unprecedented increases to state K-12 funding allocations. Since the Court’s original ruling of January 5, 2012, state funding for K-12 has increased from $13.4 billion in the 2011-13 biennium to $22.0 billion in the 2017-19 biennium.” A significant part of this comes from the levy reform work that shifted more of the education funding burden to the state from local levies.

However, the plaintiffs argue in their response that levy work was not required and misses the point of the Court’s order of simply fully funding the cost of education. “Ordinary citizens are deemed to know the law. Lawmakers should not be held to a lower standard.”  We’ll be watching TVW next Tuesday at 10:00 for oral arguments.

2. The implications of Amazon’s HQ2 announcement

Tomorrow, proposals are due to Amazon from cities looking to recruit 50,000 new full-time workers to their communities.  We’ve had a few weeks now for some of the emotion to drain out of the news. So, it’s worth re-looking at Amazon’s 8-page guidance with fresh eyes. I still come down on Austin as the company’s best landing spot.  Regardless of where they go, it’s clear Seattle won’t be it.

And, let’s face it, accommodating the next 6,000 jobs Amazon has said it will add here, on top of the 40,000 jobs it already has in Seattle, will be something to manage. If we want to continue to grow with a world-class company, enjoying all of the benefits that has to offer, then it’s probably time to re-think how we plan for growth of this scale in Seattle.

This letter last week from legislators, King County Council members, Seattle City Council members, and school board members might represent the kind of “refresh” needed. To that process, I offer three considerations about how we might need to think differently to accommodate the kind of growth we still want to see on the horizon.

3. Potential special session in December on capital budget

Legislative leaders and the governor are talking about the possibility of a special session in December, depending on the results of the 45th Senate race.  Passing the capital budget would be a focus. That’s where it gets tricky.

Funding the capital budget has two parts: a bond-based (debt) funding portion and a cash-based funding portion.  Passing the debt portion of the capital budget requires 60% of votes. Senate Republicans would need to participate in order to get that passed, and they have linked their participation to a resolution of the Hirst decision.  The cash-based portion of the capital budget only requires a simple majority to appropriate. You can see a summary of the funding here.

Of the $4.2 billion capital budget, about $1.5 billion of that only requires a simple majority. With control of both chambers, Democrats could force a vote on the capital budget, and have enough support to pass the cash-based portion. That would put tremendous pressure on the Republican Caucuses, both by scheduling votes and by highlighting the difference between passing the budget with and without their support.

4. Sound Transit looking for federal lobbyist

Sound Transit released an RFP last week looking for a federal lobbyist.  The purpose is primarily to chase federal appropriations to support the agency’s work. In recent years, the agency has used Signal, formerly McBee Strategic.  McBee is one of the longest standing firms in Washington DC with direct and deep connections with the Washington State delegation.

From 2007-2016, Sound Transit spent $4,821,209 on federal lobbying. That is more than any other Washington public agency I can find advocating in Washington DC.  For context, the Port of Seattle spent $2,280,000 during that time. The City of Seattle spent $1,280,000. That said, Boeing spent $17,020,000 on lobbying in 2016 alone.

5. ICYMI: Re-Wire Policy Conference Topical Agenda

Last week, we released our Topical Agenda for our 2017 Re-Wire Policy Conference coming up on December 12th. The response was immediate, strong and enthusiastic!

“Wow, these are all of the conversations we will be having in the session next year, and even some that we really should add to the list.”  “Thank you for making sure there is a diversity of topics that represent the diversity of our entire state.” “I won’t know which panel to attend! There are a lot I’ll want to be at that are at the same time as others I want to attend!”

We’re recruiting our slate of speakers now, and are leaning on our Convening Panel to help us find the right voices. As always, if you think there are spots on here where you’d like to plug in, drop me a note. Let’s figure out a way together to elevate some of the smartest voices on the most important issues facing Washington State.

6.  Two recent columns on Janus v. AFSCME at SCOTUS

Last issue, we featured the Janus case coming before the US Supreme Court, and the expected ruling that is likely to significantly damage public sector unions. We got two columns immediately following the email asking to shine some additional light on the topic.  We posted both last week.

David Groves from the Washington State Labor Council argued that this case is a “game changing assault.”  Morevoer, “The case is part of a well-financed long-term campaign to “defund and defang” public-sector unions as the first step towards ensuring the permanent collapse of progressive politics.”

Maxford Nelsen of the Freedom Foundation writes in his column that “By accepting Janus v. AFSCME, the court seized an opportunity to end the injustice of states forcing public employees to pay dues or fees to a labor union against their will… As Ben Johnson, former president of the Vermont AFL-CIO, recently contended, “…it’s time for labor to deny what one prominent union leader called the persuasion of power and return to the power of persuasion… The truth is that if your union is worth its salt is has nothing to worry about.”

7. Capitol press corps down by one; Santos to Times

With our friend Johnathan Martin moving from the editorial side of the Seattle Times to a special project covering homelessness,a new position has opened for an editorial writer there.  Melissa Santos of The News Tribune has moved into the position, having started there this week.

Santos was an important voice in the capitol press corps. She provided good coverage and was able to use multi-media forms like podcasts with fluency. Her departure is a loss for Olympia reporting. No word yet on whether or how The News Tribune will fill the position.