Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I am truly honored to serve as your state representative and be your voice in the Legislature. This year's 60-day session adjourned on time, March 13. With only supplemental budgets to complete in this short timeframe, we did not expect heavy lifting of a massive transportation or general tax increase package. There was still talk about new and higher taxes, but those were shelved with the tight timeline of the session. Below is a brief update on legislation I worked on this year as well as highlights from the final state supplemental operating budget.
Legislation I worked on this year
I generally do not introduce many bills, but rather try to work on legislation requested of me or that I see as being critical to addressing core government services, like K-12 education, caring for our most vulnerable and supporting our military and veterans. Here are a few bills I worked on this year:
House Bill 2264 would offer businesses relief from the state's business and occupation (B&O) tax, which is the tax applied to businesses' gross receipts. “Gross receipts” is defined as gross income, or total sales receipts before payroll and other business expenses. Different rates are applied at various rates based on business activity classifications, such as manufacturing, retail or service sectors. Instead of the current structure of B&O tax and credits for certain industries, the bill would have given businesses a choice of three deductions from the B&O tax in each filing year:
- costs of goods sold;
- 30 percent of gross revenue; or
- up to $300,000 in employee compensation.
Businesses could have chosen whichever deduction results in a greater benefit to their tax liability. This change could have created thousands of private-sector jobs we need right now. Putting people back to work should be a top priority as we work to rebuild our state's economy. The bill died in the House committee process. You can find more information on solutions I support to create jobs in Washington here.
House Bill 2130, which builds upon 2006 legislation establishing the Veterans' Innovations Program (VIP), combines the Defenders' Fund and Competitive Grant Program simplifying internal processes for the Washington Department of Veterans' Affairs. Funds appropriated to VIP will still be used to increase awareness of the program to veterans and active duty service members. Funds from this program will also be used to develop partnerships to assist members in completing the application process, along with education, training and employment assistance. Additionally, the bill expands these services to members of the National Guard. This legislation passed the House and Senate unanimously and is currently awaiting the governor's signature to become law.
House Bill 2797 would have authorized the sale of $700 million in bonds backed by lottery revenue for grants dedicated to constructing classrooms for full-day kindergarten, as well as K-3 class-size reduction. Four other states sell lottery-backed bonds and continue to enjoy strong credit ratings. In the landmark McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court laid out clear goals for the Legislature to meet with regard to class size and full-day kindergarten by 2018. This bill would have ensured we began building additional classrooms and schools to accommodate smaller class sizes to meet the deadline. The bill passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Highlights from the state supplemental operating budget
Building on the strong, bipartisan budget last year, the Legislature passed a state supplemental operating budget that both sides of the aisle could support. I voted “yes” on the budget for several reasons, including:
- College tuition rates remain frozen for students;
- We prevented tax increases, (Democrats had proposed to increase taxes on bottled water, recycled fuel, prescription drugs, e-cigarettes, and eliminate the sales tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers);
- Of the $155 million in new spending, nearly two-thirds are directed toward education funding, which is critical to meet the mandates in the McCleary order;
- It increases the state's ending-fund balance to $315 million, up from $56 million in the two-year budget passed last year; and
- The Legislature's business was completed on time without the need for a special session.
Here's the breakdown of how the state will spend the additional $155 million:
- Public education (K-12) – $56 million (36 percent)
- Higher education – $41.7 million (27 percent)
- Early learning – $20,000
- All non-education funding (includes protecting our most vulnerable, developmentally disabled people, Medicaid health care services, etc.) – $57.2 million (37 percent)
Like any compromise, there were things in the budget I did not like. But, I did appreciate that everyone sat at the table and was able to reach a responsible and sustainable spending plan that balances over four years. Voters want to know we are spending their money wisely and working together to do what is right for our communities. The budget passed by a vote of 85-13 in the House and 48-1 in the Senate.
Please know that my door is always open and I welcome your feedback – call, e-mail and write with your comments and suggestions. My legislative aide, Kevin Shutty, is available during normal business hours to assist constituents with dealing with a state agency or locating a state service. I always make myself available to meet with constituents and speak at local civic group events. Please contact Kevin if you would like to schedule a time to meet with me.
Again, thank you for all your support and your assistance this session as we waded through many bills. I look forward to seeing you around the 35th District.