Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After a week of uncertainty, Legislators were called back this afternoon to Olympia to finally finish the 2015 session. As we prepare to adjourn for the year, I would like to update you on what has happened in Olympia over the past several week, and why we are still in session after nearly 180 days.
The 2015 legislative session has been a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, the good. Passing the bipartisan 2015-17 operating budget ensured state government remains open for business and critical services continue across Washington. The budget was balanced without new taxes and makes historic investments in K-12 and higher education, funds teacher and state employee COLAs, and makes critical investments in mental health services for our states most vulnerable citizens. I am pleased with the results, and know we can continue to do better.
Even with this positive outcome, we must continue to work for a more efficient state government. I do not believe it is acceptable to take the state to the brink of shut down every two years, especially given historic revenue collections. I hope we can build on this bipartisan budget, create a culture of compromise and restore trust in state government.
Some of the investments made in the 2015-17 operating budget include:
- An additional $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education and meets the state's constitutional obligations.
- $350 million to reduce K-3 class sizes, $180 million to expand full-day kindergarten, and $740 million for materials, supplies, and operating costs.
- Fully funds the I-732 teacher COLA at maintenance level ($232 million for 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent) and an additional one-time COLA ($153 million for 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent) to provide an overall K-12 COLA of 3 percent and 1.8 percent.
- Reduces tuition by 15 percent at research institutions such as WSU and UW, 20 percent at regional universities, and 5 percent at community and technical colleges (state need grant awards to private institutions are unaffected).
- No capital gains income tax, no carbon tax, and no tax on bottled water.
The 2015-17 capital budget invests in important projects in our community, including improvements to the Shelton Senior Center, and continued work on the Shelton sewer basin project. There is no limit to what we can accomplish by working together. I look forward to seeing these, and all the projects funded in the budget completed.
Now, the bad. Unfortunately, even after passing these important budgets, the Legislature has still not adjourned for the year. In the early hours of July 1, Senate Democrats unexpectedly, and indefensibly, went back on their word to pass an important bill necessary to implement the budget. House Bill 2266, sponsored by House Democrat Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, would temporarily suspend Initiative 1351, the class-size reduction initiative, to give the Legislature time to determine its feasibility. Without this agreed-upon bill, we face a $2 billion hole in the operating budget which could negatively affect our historic investments in education, mental health, and teacher COLAs.
I applaud Speaker Chopp, Majority Leader Sullivan, and House Democrats for having the political courage to uphold their end of the budget deal and take a difficult vote to keep state government open. I cannot say the same about Senate Democrats. Though it appears a compromise has been reached in the Senate, this kind of partisanship is unacceptable and the people of Washington deserve better. You can read more about the situation in the Senate in this recent editorial from The Seattle Times.
Finally, ugly is this best way to describe the middle-of-the-night vote to increase the state gas tax by nearly 12 cents-per-gallon. The largest tax increase in our state's history was debated and passed while those it affects most were asleep, and included a provision preventing voters from having the final say. I supported an amendment to put this tax increase on the ballot, to give voters a chance to directly weigh in but it did not pass. Though the Belfair Bypass is funded in this package, beginning in the 2017-19 biennium, I believe there were better options for getting this important project done without this extreme cost.
In fact, I sponsored an amendment to the 2015-17 transportation maintenance budget earlier this yearto fund the bypass project. It was defeated by those preferring a gas-tax package. This critical project for Mason County could have been funded using existing revenue, as was promised in previous gas-tax packages. However, if it is completed using new funds, residents will pay roughly $400 million over the life of the tax for a $100 million project that could, and should, have been completed decades ago. Simply put, I will not accept massive markups on decades-old local projects to pay for WSDOT's mismanagement of Seattle-based mega projects. This was simply the wrong deal for our district.
Remembering a great leader
I was saddened to learn Dr. Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, passed away in late June after battling cancer. I had the privilege of working with him while I was the assistant ranking member on the House Capital Budget Committee. Dr. Floyd was a tireless advocate for WSU and poured his heart into improving the university. This year, he helped lead the campaign to establish a medical school at WSU in Spokane. His legacy is one of dedication, hard work and creating a bright future for higher education in Washington state. He and his family remain in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
Keeping in touch
I am confident the 2015 legislative session is nearing its completion, and I am looking forward to being back in district. Working in our community to help solve problems is one of my favorite parts of being your state representative. Please contact me with your questions, concerns and comments on issues important to you. If you would like me to visit your community group, school, or business, I am available to do so. Please contact my office to make arrangements.