Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 153 days in session, the Legislature finally adjourned on Saturday, June 29, and averted a government shutdown. That said, I never really felt like we would be forced to shutdown any services. I believe government shutdowns happen because of emergencies or severe budget crisis. Our budget situation was not a crisis. We had approximately $2.5 billion more in state tax revenue coming in for this biennial budget than we did for the last budget cycle. That is roughly a 7 percent increase. Please keep that in mind, because part of the reason this session lasted so long was the House majority’s and governor’s insistence on new and increased taxes. In fact, at one time they were proposing more than $1 billion in tax increases.
Compromise operating budget
After long negotiations involving members of both chambers and parties, I was pleased to support a state operating budget that represents a solid compromise that invests heavily in education dedicating more than $1 billion in new investments in K-12 to get us on track to meeting our education funding goals mandated by the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. The total education budget is for the 2013-15 biennium is $15.1 billion up from the $13.6 billion in the last biennium. There are $31.1 million in policy enhancements and the $1 billion for McCleary includes:
- $104 million: K-1 class-size reduction
- $90 million: Full-day kindergarten beginning with at-risk student populations
- $97 million: Increased instructional hours grades 7-12
- $132 million: Pupil transportation
- $143 million: Learning Assistance Program (LAP)
- $24 million: Counselors and parent coordinators
- $19 million: Bilingual education
- $15 million: Teacher-Principal Evaluation Program (TPEP)
- $10 million: Struggling schools
- $374 million: Materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOC)
Higher education also benefited – for the first time in nearly three decades the budget does not include tuition increases. Finally, the budget leaves more money in reserves than past budgets with $630 million in reserves and $577 million in the state’s rainy day fund.
Like any compromise budget, there are some elements I do not support and have some concerns, including:
- It takes money out of the state Public Works Trust Fund, the account our local governments rely on for infrastructure and construction projects.
- It doesn’t include any of the workers’ compensation reforms we proposed that protect workers and employers, while helping our small businesses aiding the economic recovery and our state’s bottom line.
- We must find a way to fund the teacher’s COLA as once again the budget suspends it.
- With the expansion of Medicaid we are relying on funding from the federal government. This raises red flags given the massive debt and spending problems.
As you can see, it is not a perfect budget, but there are many good pieces to the spending plan. I am hopeful we can continue to work toward more compromise and address some of my concerns in the next session.
The capital budget was also very bipartisan and received strong support. It passed the House by a vote of 79-4 and passed unanimously in the Senate. Many in the 17th District have been awaiting the passage of this budget for a quite a while as it provides funding for the rebuilding of Crestline Elementary School in Vancouver. The Columbian provides a good rundown of the projects in yesterday’s article: Capital bill aids building projects.
The capital budget is essential to funding infrastructure within Washington, important community projects and providing funding mechanisms for local entities, such as low-interest loans.
Anyone who lives in Southwest Washington and follows the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Bridge debate knows by now that the Legislature adjourned without passing a transportation tax revenue plan that would have provided $450 million for the project. What that means is the CRC project is dead. You can read Columbia River Crossing implosion invites lessons, closure and new plans in The Oregonian and CRC begins close-out of Vancouver project office in The Columbian. As the dust settles on the CRC issue, I hope it will give us a chance to realize this obviously was not the right project and we can work on a common sense option the citizens in our region can support.
The transportation tax revenue plan also was defeated because it was calling for a 10-cent gas tax increase over the next two years. This is the wrong time for a gas tax increase. Citizens in my district who contacted me were overwhelmingly opposed to this plan.
After a long session…much longer than it needed to be, I look forward to spending more time in the district. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about what happened in the Legislature this session do not hesitate to contact me. I would also encourage you to contact me if you need any assistance with a state government issue. My door is always open.