Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned April 11, 2012 after a marathon 24-hour finish and agreement on operating and capital budgets, as well as a series of government reform bills. Bipartisanship played a role in the budgets and key pieces of reform legislation. There are many positive things that came out of both sides being at the negotiating table. It serves the taxpayers of Washington much better when we work in a bipartisan manner.
This e-mail update provides you a brief review of the budgets and reforms we passed in the final days of the special sessions. I hope you find it informative. It is an honor to serve you in the Legislature.
There were many things to like about the supplemental operating budget. It funds education and doesn’t push payments into the next biennium. With that said, I voted against the budget. It leaves our reserves dangerously low and could lead to another budget shortfall if we see the slightest downturn in our economy again. Of the approximate $360 million in reserve, about $238 million is one-time money because of an accounting maneuver. Last year, the budget had $745 million in reserves and most of that was gone after one bad revenue forecast. I would have also liked to see the reforms be a little stronger and achieve more short-term savings.
The most concerning issue at all levels of government right now is debt. For this reason, the capital budget was probably the most difficult piece of legislation negotiated this session. I supported the capital budget, and it passed with strong, bipartisan support.
It is a reasonable and responsible plan that provides important infrastructure for our education and higher education systems, correction facilities, hospitals, and sewer and water projects. By investing in our state’s infrastructure through capital provisions, we put people back to work while making solid statewide improvements for the future.
Four-year budget outlook
This may be the best reform bill we passed all session. One of the most frustrating parts of the budget process is the failure to look ahead and take into consideration spending policies and how they impact future budget cycles.
Senate Bill 6636 requires the Legislature to balance operating budgets over four years before an operating budget is adopted. Lawmakers must balance a spending plan in the current two-year budget cycle – and also in the following two-year cycle. This will require legislators to consider the long-term effects of their spending decisions. Washington is the first state in the nation to adopt this budgeting practice.
Cost savings for local governments
House Bill 2834 was a measure we were able to include in the package of reforms passed on the last day of session. It may not appear to be a significant piece of legislation, but it is to local governments. It reduces reporting requirements and provides savings for our cities and counties.
Improving revenue and budget sustainability
As you know, the manufacturing and processing of foods is vital to our region. Construction of data centers in our area has also provided hundreds of jobs and benefitted our economy. We passed Senate Bill 6635 that includes the extension of tax incentives for fruit, vegetable, dairy and seafood businesses through 2015, as well as the tax incentive for data center equipment through the same year. There are other pieces to the bill. But the main issue is that it will bring jobs and revenue into Washington. We have lost many of these businesses to other states. Read: Data-Center Fumble Costs Jobs in Washington State – and Maybe Big Money from Washington State Wire. This legislation should help reverse that trend.
Fund Education First
While there are many good things that came out of the session, we still need to ensure we are fully funding education. Our caucus introduced a Fund Education First proposal this session. It is very simple. It would require the Legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations.
If we fund education first prior to any other state programs or services, it will ensure we are meeting our duty and expectations of the state Supreme Court decision, McCleary v. State of Washington. The court stated we are not complying with our constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of our children. Fund Education First legislation sends a strong message of financial commitment to our students, teachers and schools.
Jobs and Economy
Other than the budget shortfall, the 2012 session should have been used to pass economic stimulus and regulatory reform legislation to help promote private-sector job creation. Despite our best efforts to advance important job-creating bills, House Democratic majority leaders refused public hearings on nearly all of our measures. House Republicans introduced measures that would simplify and reduce tax rates for small businesses, enact major regulatory reform, require agencies to make permit decisions in 90 days, and classifying hydropower as renewable energy to recapture our state’s advantage of offering clean, affordable energy for manufacturers.
These are just a few of the proposals we introduced. There are many others which you can review here. We felt they would have helped create economic certainty, protect our competitive advantages, and work to improve on competitive disadvantages.
After May 11, I will no longer be able to send out e-mail updates due to legislative ethics rules. And after June 30, I am unable to initiate communications with constituents by mail or e-mail unless you contact me about an issue or a request for information.
However, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or concerns about a state issue or need assistance with a state agency. During the interim you can also contact my district office to schedule a meeting or speaking engagement. I am happy to meet with you and community groups to discuss any issues of importance to you.
My district office has been open about a month. I am excited to be more accessible to my constituency. My office is located at 237 Chkalov Dr., Suite 106, and is staffed by my Legislative Assistant Joe DePinto. The phone number is (360) 260-6128.
Thank you for allowing me the great honor to serve you.