Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week, we were presented with two visions for Washington's future. On one hand we saw a vision that is built on new and increased taxes. On the other, a vision built on prioritized spending and respect for taxpayers. These visions were laid out in the form of the House and Senate operating budgets, and will drive the discussion in Olympia over the last few weeks of the 2015 regular session.
The budget proposed by House Democrats passed the House on a 51-47 vote along party lines last week. While I am pleased this budget addressed priorities such as mental health services and restores teacher COLAs, and did not include Governor Inslee's carbon tax plan, I have several concerns and voted against this vision for our state's future.
This budget will hurt our recovering economy and is not in the best fiscal interest of Washington state and the 35th District. The plan increases spending by nearly 15 percent over the current biennium. Further, this budget does not balance without raising taxes on the hard-working people of Washington state. This is especially concerning given a $3 billion increase in revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle. Given this growth in revenue, I believe we have the means to pass a responsible, sustainable, and balanced budget without relying on tax increases.
Increasing taxes should be a last resort, but this plan includes $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes. Many of you have contacted me and asked why government wants to increase taxes when revenue collections are up and our economy is slowly recovering. You've also told me that government should prioritize spending and live within its means just like families all across the state. I agree with you, and believe raising taxes will affect Washington's ability to compete economically. It's clear to me that Olympia does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.
Unemployment remains an issue in Washington state, especially outside of Seattle, and is higher than the national average. In fact, in Mason County unemployment is hovering just under 10 percent. We need a spending plan that will unleash our economy, spur family-wage job growth and ensure Washington state is competitive for generations to come. We don't achieve this by adding to the tax burden of low and middle-income families and job creators. We do this by effectively prioritizing spending and investing in the future.
The House majority party proposed ten tax increases which they say are necessary to fund basic education under the McCleary decision. But their proposals, including a tax on capital gains income, bottled water, online sales, and increases to the state's B&O tax, fail to meet an important requirement of McCleary. The Supreme Court ruled basic education must be funded using “regular and dependable sources of revenue.” Taxes can and have been repealed by Washington voters in the past. Just a few years ago, Washington voters repealed the bottled water tax with a 60 percent majority. These taxes are neither regular nor dependable, and I believe we can do better.
A better option passed the Senate earlier this week. This option shows how state government can meet its obligations, fully fund education, improve mental health services, restore cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for teachers and other state employees and reduce college tuition without raising taxes. I believe this is the better vision for our state.
Now that both the House and Senate have passed their budgets, the hard work of negotiating a final budget begins. We have until April 26 to complete our work and I believe it can be done. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will work hard to ensure residents of the 35th District will not be forgotten in this budget process.
Belfair Bypass update:
This week, the House passed its transportation maintenance and operations budget. I introduced an amendment to allocate $15 million for the Belfair Bypass. This would help continue the project and hopefully spur its completion. I was disappointed this amendment was rejected by the House majority party. As such, I could not vote for a transportation budget that does not include this critical infrastructure improvement project in our district. I remain a strong supporter of the Belfair Bypass and I am actively investigating other funding options for this project. I will continue to fight for it to be completed because I believe it will greatly benefit our region, both in congestion relief and economic development.
Congratulations Mason Transit!
I was honored to spend some time in Shelton to help dedicate the new Mason Transit Authority community center last week. It was one of the first projects I was able to work on and secure state capital budget funds for, and I am excited to see the positive effect it will have on revitalizing Shelton's downtown. It was great to join with so many friends and neighbors to showcase the result of years of hard work by so many people in our community, especially Brad Patterson and his team at Mason Transit. This community transit center is a welcome addition to Shelton and will benefit the public for years to come.
Keep in touch:
As we approach the end of the 2015 legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your questions, concerns and comments on the budget and other issues important to our community. I am looking forward to getting back to our district for the summer and fall. If you would like me to visit your community group, school or business, I am always available to do so. I enjoy spending time in our community and hearing directly from you. Please contact my office to make arrangements.