Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As Yogi Berra once famously said, “It's like déjà vu all over again.” As they did in the 2015 session, House Democrats have released an operating budget proposal that calls for billions in new taxes, massive spending increases, and puts more money into the state's regressive levy system. The fact is this is not a realistic budget proposal. It's yet another 'wish list' budget that is fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable.
Not only is there no need for $8 billion in tax increases through the 2019-21 budget cycle, there is no appetite for these tax increases either. Especially at a time when the latest revenue forecast revealed the state will have $2.6 billion more to spend next budget cycle than in the current budget cycle that ends June 30.
The bottom line is these tax increases would dampen entrepreneurship, discourage businesses from relocating to our state, and stifle economic growth — and more than 90 percent of them would not even go toward K-12 education funding. The fact is their K-12 funding proposals could be paid for with existing revenue.
My other frustration with the House Democrats' budget is the way they went about unveiling it. While they gave the required five days of notice prior to the public hearing on their proposal, they had not yet released it for review. How could constituents realistically be expected to testify on something that wasn't made public until noon on the day of the hearing? They couldn't. Yet every special interest group was lined up to testify, which means they had been given a heads up about what was in the budget. This led to a one-sided public hearing, with the only testimony coming from people who would benefit from the budget. That is not how government should operate.
In the other chamber, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) released their budget proposal last week. While it isn't perfect, it gets a lot of things right. It doesn't impose any new or major tax increases, and it builds on the previous $4.6 billion in additional education funding over the last two budget cycles — which marked a 36 percent increase in funding — by providing $2 billion in new K-12 education spending. If this funding is adopted, K-12 spending would represent more than 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time since 1983. Other highlights of the MCC's proposal include:
- Makes higher education more affordable and more accessible by funding 1,800 new enrollments, with a significant focus on STEM degrees.
- Protects the most vulnerable and those with mental health issues.
- Makes significant investments to protect foster children and those with developmental disabilities.
- Leaves $2 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.
One of the most important things the MCC's budget does is replace the state's K-12 education funding system, in which property-wealthy districts can generate more funding per student at a lower tax rate than property-poor districts. Instead of continuing this system, the MCC has called for a flat, statewide local effort property tax, which would provide equitable funding to students, regardless of their ZIP code. This would not only be great for them, but according to Senate fiscal documents, the average homeowner in the 35th District would see a property tax decrease of $279.
Neither budget is indicative of what the final budget will look like, but at least the majority party in the Senate put a realistic proposal on the table. The House Democrats' budget proposal makes it extremely unlikely we'll be able to finish our work on time this year. It's simply a non-starter, which means negotiations will take even longer. Longer negotiations lead to special sessions.
Our poor track record when it comes to completing our work on time is why I introduced House Joint Resolution 4205 earlier this session. This bill would have imposed monetary fines on legislators for every additional day past sine die we needed to complete our work. It didn't go anywhere, but I still believe it would be the right thing to do to ensure we remain focused on the task at hand and are giving you the respect you deserve as constituents.
Instead, we will almost assuredly require our 14th special session since 2010. This complacency is unacceptable. I'm the assistant ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, and the governor's office has still not scheduled a time to hold a budget meeting with me. It's a shame the governor has been more focused on making national headlines than tending to the state's business of developing a balanced budget, working to solve K-12 and mental health challenges, and bringing negotiators together. That is not leadership.
An update on my bills
I wanted to provide a quick update on the status of the following bills.
House Bill 1046 would delink state tests from high school graduation requirements. Not only would this be great for students, but it would save the state roughly $21 million in the 2017-19 biennium, and $18 million each biennium thereafter. I strongly believe these tests have been more of a hindrance than a help to our students, and will keep fighting to ensure we are not imposing unnecessary burdens on them. As I've said before, we should rely less on tests and more on the curriculum and our great teachers to prepare our students for life. While I'm grateful the bill received a hearing in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, I'm disappointed it was not voted out this week. Even so, the bill remains alive and will be one of the negotiating pieces on the table as budget negotiations get under way.
House Bill 1058 would ensure incarcerated criminal offenders pay court-ordered restitution to their victims in a timely manner. Under the bill, courts would be prohibited from granting postponement of an offender's restitution payments — paid by the offender over a specified period of time for a victim's damages — until after their release from confinement. This bill advanced out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee yesterday, and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
Town hall recap
Thank you to everyone who came out to the 35th District town hall last week at Olympic College Shelton. We had a great crowd and I really enjoyed the opportunity to provide an update on the legislative session and answer questions on a wide variety of issues. I know Rep. Griffey did as well.
Visiting with students from Hawkins Middle School
It's always fun to meet with students from schools in the 35th District. Earlier this month, students from Hawkins Middle School in Belfair traveled to Olympia to tour the buildings on the Capitol Campus and learn more about their state government. Many of the students had never been to the Capitol before, so it was great to have the opportunity to spend some time with them and talk about what we do as state representatives.
It's an honor to serve you in the state House. Please feel free to contact me any time with your questions, comments or concerns. My contact information is below.