Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Thank you for allowing me to be your voice in the state Legislature. We're in the final week of the 60-day session and a lot is taking shape. We voted on the three main supplemental state budgets – operating, capital and transportation – and are continuing to vote on bills that are needed to complete the budgets as well as many others. I have faith we will finish our work on time, March 13, and without new and higher taxes.
I also want to thank you for all the feedback I received on the questionnaire I mailed out earlier this session. We received more than 1,000 responses, which is great! Below are brief details on the budgets passed this week and the next steps for them as well as the results from the 35th District survey.
The supplemental state operating budget: One of the main reasons I voted against the budget put forward by the House majority party is that it relied on $100 million in new and higher taxes to balance. The argument given for needing these tax increases is to add more money to K-12 education. I'm all for fully funding K-12 education. The 2013-15 budget that included an additional $1 billion investment in schools paved the way to meet this goal by the mandated deadline of 2018. Additionally, I believe we should fund education before any other program, not gamble on unpopular tax increases – some of which voters have repealed in a statewide ballot measure. This is the wrong time to ask more from taxpayers, many of whom have not yet recovered from the Great Recession.
The supplemental state capital budget: This is the state budget that funds our brick and mortar infrastructure projects around the state. This spending plan is critical to ensuring we support cities and counties with necessary infrastructure, such as water and sewer upgrades. These projects create jobs and help with economic development in our communities. Tied to this budget is a bipartisan measure, House Bill 2797, which I cosponsored. It would put as much as $700 million toward building schools to reduce K-3 class sizes and comply with the state Supreme Court's Jan. 9 order in the McCleary decision to fully fund education. In the January order, the state Supreme Court reinforced the urgency for action in this area stating, “…Make no mistake enhanced funding for full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction is essential, but the State must account for the actual cost to schools of providing these components of basic education.”
House Bill 2797 also attempts to fulfill the requirements of I-728, which passed by 71.7 percent in 2000, and in all counties. It directed state lottery revenues to be dedicated to education construction for “providing improvement or additions to facilities to support class-size reductions…” We cannot promise lower class sizes without the classroom space to house our students and teachers.
The supplemental state transportation budget: This is the budget that is used solely for building transportation infrastructure and studying transportation tax policy. The budget is funded through state gas taxes and other vehicle fees. I voted against this budget because I did not support the $450,000 allocated to the State Transportation Commission to study the transition from the gas tax to a road user fee, also known as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax. Privacy concerns aside, a VMT would impact rural areas the most because folks in those areas drive more miles to get to the grocery store, work and to local schools.
Another flaw in this budget was the additional funding for the 520 Bridge cost overruns. As has been widely reported, issues with the bridge pontoons has created a situation where all of the $250 million contingency reserve set aside for cost overruns on this mega-project have already been exhausted. So, this budget included $172 million more for the 520 Bridge project. Yes, we need to finish this project, but funding more of the same without serious reforms and legislative oversight is concerning to me and, I think, the general taxpayer.
I think we can do better for the citizens of Washington by spending our gas tax dollars more wisely and enacting reforms that ensure responsible expenditures and accountability on costly mega-projects.
Your responses to 35th District survey
I appreciate all the feedback you offered on the mailed survey earlier this year. Your feedback helps me represent you to the best of my ability. As we vote on crucial measures, my goal is to share your voice and do what is best for the 35th District. Here are the questions and your responses:
1. Some lawmakers want to raise the state gas tax by as much as 10.5 cents per gallon. Would you be willing to pay 10.5 cents more per gallon to help pay for transportation projects in the state?
2. If you could pick one issue that is most important to you, what issue would that be?
3. The state Supreme Court recently sent an order to the Legislature saying lawmakers need to put more money into K-12 education and teacher salaries right away despite the fact that we spend an additional $1.6 billion in K-12 education in last year's budget. Do you agree with the state Supreme Court's order?
As we quickly approach interim, please remember my door is always open and I welcome your calls and e-mails. I also make myself available to speak to local civic groups and meet with constituents throughout the year. Please contact my office anytime if you would like to schedule a time to meet with me or a speaking opportunity.
Again, thank you for the privilege of serving you.