Rep. Mike Sells Feb 17/2012 e-memo

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February 17, 2012
Message from Rep. Mike Sells

Budget update

The state revenue collections are looking up for the first time since the spring of 2010, giving state budget writers a second bit of good news this month.

The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council met Thursday and adopted a revised forecast for the current biennium and the first forecast for the 2013-15 biennium.

In the current biennium, revenues are expected to grow by about $46 million. The forecast shows an increase of about $96 million, but $50 million was part of the budget proposal adopted in December 2011. That funding was due to HB 2169 which dealt with earlier collection of unclaimed property.  You can find the entire report here.

Last Wednesday it was announced that a reduction in the demand for state services has saved the state around $340 million. All this good news has reduced the current budget shortfall from about $1.5 billion to $1.1 billion – still a very large hole to fill.

You can expect to see the 2012 Supplemental Operating Budget early next week, and I will include information about it in my next update.

House of origin cutoff passes

All non-fiscal House bills have now either been passed to the Senate or have died for this year; Senate bills have either been sent to the House or have also died.  Our committees are considering Senate bills now, and will have to take action on them by the end of the day Tuesday.  At cut-off, many bills I consider to be priorities are still moving.

For information about other bills that are still moving, you can read our press release here.

Heftier fines on johns and pimps to help victims start over

Two measures we sent over to the Senate involve cracking down on the commercial sex industry in our state.  Prostitution is a major problem in many parts of Washington – in fact, Seattle’s port and proximity to an international border makes it one of the top-10 human-trafficking hot spots in the country.

Did you know that the first time a “john” gets caught buying sex from a prostitute, his fine is currently only $150?  Or that a pimp is only fined $300 the first time he’s caught selling the services of a prostitute?

To help reduce the commercial sex trade in Washington state, we passed two bipartisan measures that increase those fines on the buyers and sellers significantly:

House Bill 2692: instead of $150, johns will pay $1,500 for a first offense, $2,500 for a second offense, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

House Bill 1983: instead of $300, pimps will pay $3,000 for a first offense, $6,000 for a second offense, and $10,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

Both bills passed the House unanimously. The revenue from the increased fines will go toward educating offenders about the negative costs of prostitution and for prevention and rehabilitative services to help victims escape the sex trade industry.

Free online tax assistance and e-filing

Many people are beginning the process of filing their federal income tax returns.  Did you know that the IRS offers free tax preparation services for taxpayers earning $57,000 or less per year? That’s about 70 percent of us!

Since its inception in 2003, IRS Free File has offered free access to leading commercial tax preparation software.  This is made possible through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a coalition of industry-leading tax software companies.

For information, please visit the IRS Free File website at www.irs.gov/freefile

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