Session Bill Report

— End of Session Report —

The Legislature has finished its official business for 2016. A few weeks overdue, the House and Senate were able to agree on a supplemental budget. This agreement will keep the State’s books balanced through June, 2017.

— BUMPS IN THE ROAD —

In the end, the legislative session ended in the way that was anticipated. The State had some unexpected expenses last year related to the wildfires and mental health funding. After those expenses were budgeted for, legislators left town to kick off their election campaigns. However, there were some hiccups mid-session that took the political establishment by surprise.

Six weeks into a very calm legislative session, the Republican controlled Senate voted to not confirm one of Governor Inslee’s high ranking political appointees. Normal procedure would be to notify the executive branch that a nominee would not be confirmed. In that case, an appointee could step down or withdraw their nomination in a more private and less embarrassing way. The vote was clearly an attempt to make a statement and embarrass the Governor. One Senator even took to bragging on the internet about the matter. Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, were furious. The bipartisan mood that had been building through the session was gone in an instant.

Budget gridlock followed the political appointee incident. The House and Senate’s supplemental budget proposals were roughly $1 billion different. The Senate proposed combining the Teachers Retirement System Plan 1 (TRS-1) pension fund with the Law Enforcement and Firefighters Plan 1 (LEOFF-1) pension funds. This move would reduce the unfunded liability in TRS-1 by $1.2 billion, and help to shore up that pension fund. The House of Representatives proposed closing tax loopholes to pay for new homelessness programs and teacher raises. None of these additional proposals were passed as part of the final budget.

— WSSRA’s PRIORITIES —

Most of WSSRA legislative priorities were achieved this session:

• Medical benefits. Retirees’ $150 monthly medical benefit was not cut. Currently, the state pays 50% of Medicare retirees’ supplemental insurance premiums, up to $150 per month. This benefit will continue.
• Retirees as substitutes. Legislators passed Senate Bill 6455 that will allow early retirees from Plans 2 & 3 to substitute teach without losing their retirement benefits.
• Pension Payment. The Legislature made the actuarially recommended pension payments to the State’s pension funds. Payments were also made to help pay off the Plan 1 unfunded liability.
• Pension Plans. No changes were made to the state’s pension plans for future educators and school employees. These traditional pension plans have come under regular attack in favor of defined contribution, 401(k) style retirement plans.
• Plan 1 COLA. Legislative budget writers were not willing to pay for a Plan 1 COLA at this point. We will continue to pressure legislators to reinstate a COLA for Plan 1.

— WSSRA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE —

The WSSRA State Legislative Committee was very active throughout the legislative session. Meetings were held in Olympia in January and February. WSSRA volunteers successfully met with over 250 representatives, senators, and professional legislative staffers. Legislative Committee leadership is busy gearing up for the 2017 legislative session.

— NEXT STEPS —

The 2017 Legislative Session will be very difficult. Many expensive budgetary needs have been accumulating, and legislators will have to face most of them next session.

We should hope for the best and plan for the worst. There are several actions retirees can take that will put us in a better position over the legislative interim:

• Please engage with your legislators and share your concerns. They will be in their home communities throughout this campaign season.
• The WSSR-PAC is working hard to support legislative candidates that are supportive of WSSRA’s priorities. The PAC needs your financial support. Funding decisions will be made in early August.
• It is important to sign up for legislative communications from the WSSRA office. The fastest way to receive updates is through email directly from our legislative office. Sometimes we only have a few hours to notify WSSRA members of important decisions being made in Olympia.

Thank you for all your past and future work in defense of retirees’ financial security.