Equal Justice Coalition, Politics, State Funding

Sine Die….And Now What?

By Kristin Parker

Sunday, April 23rd was the formal “sine die” to the end of the 2017 state legislative session. However, in the absence of agreement on either the state operating or capital budgets, Governor Jay Inslee called for a 30-day Special Session beginning today, Monday, April 24.

As we all know, the central issue of this session is complying with the Supreme Court mandate to fully fund K-12 education.   Negotiators on education policy decisions appear to have agreed upon general concepts for the major education budget drivers, but they need more time to work through the details.   Although the House and Senate budget proposals are not far apart on total education funding, they have a fundamental disagreement about whether additional revenues are required.  Central to that debate are the questions of property tax levy reform, spending levels for non-education state programs/services (including civil legal aid), and, if needed, what sources of revenue would be acceptable.

Past history would suggest that multiple special sessions will be necessary to resolve those questions.  Legislators may prefer to wait for the June revenue forecast in hopes that it will provide additional dollars and enable them to balance the budget without imposing significant new taxes.  But, there is less certainty this year that the forecast will be favorable and growing pressure to conclude their work before Memorial Day.

With regards to funding for civil legal aid, here’s a reminder of where we stand:

  • The Senate’s budget includes flat line funding for legal aid, plus a modest maintenance adjustment of roughly $300k.
  • The House’s budget includes an increase in funding for legal aid of approximately $7.6M. This increase includes funding for: an additional 30 staffed legal aid attorneys over the next two years; additional resources for pro bono services; the creation of self-help technology to aid people with civil legal issues; and, maintenance adjustments for the increased cost of providing civil legal aid.

As legislators enter into the special session and continue with the budget negotiation process, they will be addressing a number of issues, some of which I described above. We need to continue to remind our legislators of the importance of civil legal aid. We want to ensure that during the budget negotiation process funding for legal aid does not fall below the House’s number.

Please take a few minutes to send your legislators an email about civil legal aid funding.

We are well-positioned to receive a substantial increase in funding for FY 2017-2019, and to make sure we succeed, we must keep advocating. Please help us remind the members of the legislature that Washington has an opportunity to take a significant step towards justice for all.