Legislature: Sales tax exemption alive, medical pot bill dies in House

The ColumbianMarch 14, 2014 

A supplemental budget approved by state lawmakers Thursday includes no change to the sales tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers, dropping a House proposal to narrow the tax break.

House Democrats had proposed closing the up-front exemption that allows out-of-state shoppers to pay no sales tax at the cash register. The plan revived a familiar idea that local leaders say would have a far-reaching effect in Clark County, where some merchants get much of their business from Oregon residents. But dropping the sales tax exemption has never gained enough traction to become reality.

The compromise budget plan that emerged Thursday largely shied away from controversial items or sweeping changes. That's why the budget didn't alter the sales tax, and didn't include cost-of-living pay raises for teachers.

"What we agreed upon was in the budget," said state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. "What we did not agree upon was not in the budget."

The plan represents a $155 million increase in state spending, a relatively modest change to a total budget of more than $33 billion.

On education, the supplemental budget includes $58 million for materials, supplies and operating costs. Many lawmakers welcomed that investment, but noted that Washington is still far short of meeting its education funding requirements under a state Supreme Court mandate. The issue will likely be key in 2015, when larger budget negotiations happen.

"We're kicking the can down the road," Moeller said.

Moeller praised the budget's investment in mental health care, aid to needy families and other services. Those extra resources will be helpful in Clark County and elsewhere, he said.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, highlighted benefits to counties, hospitals, schools and mental health during Senate floor deliberation, which was broadcast by TVW. "We've known for a long time that we just don't put enough money into the health of the mentally ill in this state," Benton said.

Funding for local Fish and Wildlife office

Also tucked into the budget is $218,000 for the relocation of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Vancouver office. The office will stay in Vancouver, but move to a new location with more space.

Regional wildlife officials have said they've simply outgrown their current digs at 2108 Grand Blvd. The $218,000 allocation would cover one-time moving expenses, including furniture, technical support and other costs.

The department said late last year that it had found a possible building, but couldn't share details while contract negotiations were ongoing. Fish and Wildlife officials hoped to have a new lease ready by December.

The budget passed the House on a 85-13 vote. It cleared the Senate by a 48-1 tally, with the lone dissenting vote coming from Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo. The plan now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for final approval.

Rivers' medical marijuana bill dies

One bill that didn't survive the frantic final hours of the 2014 session was a proposal from Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, to overhaul the state's medical marijuana system. Senate Bill 5887 would have aimed to align Washington's largely unregulated medical marijuana system with its emerging recreational pot market.

The bill would have, among other things, created new limits on possession, phased out collective gardens and set up a state registry for medical marijuana patients and providers.

Washington voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana with the approval of Initiative 502 in 2012. Rivers had characterized SB 5887 as an effort to make sure both systems work properly along side each other.

The bill had passed the Senate on a 34-15 vote. The house did not act on bill before it adjourned.

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