Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last Friday marked our first major deadline of the session — policy committee cutoff. This means non-fiscal bills that did not pass out of committee are now considered “dead” for the year unless deemed necessary to implement the budget (NTIB) or necessary to pass the budget (NTPB). Bills with these designations are exempt from cutoff dates and remain alive throughout the budget negotiation process. This Friday marks fiscal committee cutoff, which means bills that do impact the state's three budgets (operating, transportation, capital) must pass out of appropriations committees or be considered “dead” for the year unless deemed NTIB or NTPB.
Outside of committee action, our top priority as a Legislature remains coming up with a comprehensive K-12 education funding plan. The most difficult piece of the budget puzzle will be agreeing on what that plan looks like. Yesterday, the majority party in the House brought their proposal, House Bill 1843, to the floor for a vote. We had a robust debate, with Republicans introducing seven amendments — including one of my own — that would have drastically improved the bill.
The intent behind the amendment I sponsored (you can watch my floor speech here) was to provide more affordable and equitable health benefit coverage to classified school employees, who tend to be disproportionately burdened by the current K-12 health benefit system. It's a fact K-12 employees with families pay seven times more for coverage than individuals. My amendment would have helped lower their costs by requiring health benefits to be provided to them through the Public Employees' Benefits Board. This would have ensured these classified state employees would pay no more than three times more for coverage than individuals. The amendment was voted down, as were five others.
The one amendment the majority party did accept would require that funds allocated for smaller K-3 class sizes would go exclusively toward that purpose and nothing else. While I'm glad the amendment was accepted, with six of the seven others voted down, I could not support the bill. In its current form, it doesn't create a K-12 funding system that is ample, equitable or accountable, nor does it provide adequate reforms. We also have no idea how it would be paid for. Nobody in the majority party revealed any details on that front yesterday.
In addition to not having an adequate funding system in place, another major problem of the plan is that it continues the existing local levy policy where property-wealthy districts can generate more funding per student at a lower tax rate than property-poor districts. The Senate Republicans' proposal would replace this existing system with a flat, statewide local effort property tax, which would provide equal funding to students, regardless of their ZIP code. It would also mean reduced property taxes for taxpayers in many legislative districts, including the 35th. This idea makes far more sense than simply relying on what's not working. We must ensure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed, and that will not happen as long as we keep the current regressive local levy policy in place.
To watch yesterday's entire floor debate, click here.
Telephone town hall a big success
Thank you to all of you who participated in last week's telephone town hall! We took 13 calls, with topics ranging from the Hirst Decision and infrastructure improvements, to education funding and the nuances of the levy cliff. We also had time to ask two poll questions.
1. Legislation has been proposed to abolish the death penalty. Do you support ending capital punishment?
2. Do you support legislation to reform the state's B&O tax to exempt all businesses from B&O tax liability on their first $200,000 of taxable income?
I really enjoy these telephone town halls because they allow you and I to have an open and honest dialogue with one another. Whether we agree on a particular issue or not, please know I am focused on solving problems in our district and am here to serve you. I have and will continue to bring your voice to the forefront in the Legislature.
If you missed my telephone town hall, please feel free to send me an email or give me a call any time at (360) 786-7902. I'm also working on securing dates and times for an upcoming in-district listening tour. I'll have more information about that in future updates, but if you have any ideas for locations in your community where I could come and visit, please let me know.
It's an honor to serve you in the state House.