Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy New Year!
This week, the Legislature convened for the 2016 session. Scheduled to last just 60 days, we have hit the ground running to address the important issues facing our state. Since the Legislature adjourned in July, I have been working in our district, meeting with constituents, and visiting schools, businesses and community groups. I will be keeping your thoughts and concerns in mind throughout the session.
Last year, we accomplished big things for education. We funded the voter-approved teacher COLAs for the first time in years, and increased K-12 spending to record levels, including funding for class-size reduction in grades K-3.
Additionally, we cut tuition at state colleges and universities – the first such cut in our nation's history – making it easier for students to continue their education beyond high school.
Yet, in light of recent Supreme Court rulings on education and continuing issues with state government efficiency, much work remains to be done – especially on charter schools and developing a plan to address our over-reliance on local levies.
This week, Governor Inslee addressed the Legislature and laid out his agenda for 2016. I share some of his priorities, including wildfire recovery, mental health improvements and taking the next steps to fully fund K-12 education. But, as is often the case in Olympia it's easy to agree on the problems and much harder to agree on the solutions.
The governor proposed a $700 million supplemental budget which includes nearly $200 million in spending on new policy proposals. This spending would create a more than $800 million shortfall in the 2017-19 budget. Further, his budget relies on increased taxes and tapping reserve accounts in order to balance. This isn't responsible leadership. I'll be working with my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to ensure we pass a budget that meets our state's needs, respects taxpayers and balances over the next four years as required by law.
Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled against voter-approved public charter schools in Washington. This ruling had major implications for the future of alternative public education options in our state, including schools for the deaf, schools for the blind, skill centers and tribal schools that fall outside of the overview of local elected school boards. Public charter schools serve students who live in predominantly minority and low-income communities. The majority of students are enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs. It's a matter of fairness, and I don't believe it's fair to take opportunities away from students who are in schools that aren't meeting their needs.
My colleague and the Ranking Member on the House Education Committee, Rep. Chad Magendanz, has introduced a solution to keep these schools open and operating. Take a minute to watch him explain the bill in this short video.
In addition to our work on education and the budget, we must continue to improve the way government operates and interacts with the people who pay for it. As a small-business owner in our community, I know firsthand the burden of over-regulation, over-taxation, and under-performance many experience when dealing with state government.
This is especially true in rural parts of Washington, many of which are still recovering from the recession.
We can, and must, do better.
Improving accountability in state government remains a top priority this session. We must make difficult decisions and continue to move away from the tired, partisan ideas that have dominated Olympia for most of the past 30 years.
One step we can take immediately is impeaching Troy Kelley for abandoning his office and delegating authority to an unelected state employee for more than seven months in 2015. His refusal to resign hangs like a dark cloud over the Office of State Auditor and we need to act to restore public trust to this important state agency.
As the ranking member on the House General Government and Information Technology Committee, I am committed to asking hard questions and demanding honest answers from the 68 state agencies my committee oversees.
One of those agencies is the Department of Corrections (DOC). Leaders from the DOC must provide a full account of how thousands of felons were improperly released and the steps they are taking to prevent it from happening again.
This is not merely a political scandal. This is a serious public safety issue.
I have toured several state correctional facilities, including in Shelton, and am proud to represent hundreds of DOC employees. They have a difficult job and I am grateful for all they do to provide justice for victims and rehabilitation for offenders. That is why I believe they deserve strong leadership at the top of the agency, not a tired bureaucracy willing to kick the can down the road.
The 2016 session is a short, 60-day sprint. Though we will be limited by time, we should not be limited by effort or perseverance.
It is an honor to serve you in the House of Representatives. I hope you will take time this year to call, email or visit me in Olympia. My door is always open!
And, of course, GO HAWKS!