Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I want to thank everyone who attended the town hall meeting on Feb. 18 in Covington with Sen. Joe Fain, Rep. Sullivan and me. We had a full house with close to one hundred attendees. Some just came to listen and others came to be heard. We listened to passionate views on all sorts of different issues – from education to the budget to same sex marriage. It was great to have a discussion where even when people disagreed, they did so in a respectful way. Listening to one another and learning from others' experiences makes us all better citizens and it makes me a better representative for you.
At this point in the legislative process, we are just 11 days from the end of session and still nothing has been done to address the spending gap of roughly $1.1 billion. The House Republicans introduced their budget solution on Feb. 17 and the House Democrats followed with their budget proposal on Feb. 21. Senate Democrats have said they will release their spending plan tomorrow, Feb. 28. In this brief update, I offer a comparative look at the House Republican and Democrat budgets and hope you will share your thoughts with me as we move forward.
Please remember that my door is always open and I will work with anyone to advance solutions that make Washington the best state to live, work and raise a family.
House Republicans and House Democrats release state budget
The House Republicans released their operating budget proposal on Feb. 17. It emphasizes the priorities of funding education first, ensuring public safety and protecting the most vulnerable. To learn more, please click here.
Our budget differs from the governor's budget by:
- $580 million more for education;
- $40 million more for public safety; and
- $89 million more for the most vulnerable.
It is uncommon for the minority party to introduce a proposed operating budget, but we must be solution-oriented and offer alternatives. Our budget provided a great starting point. Had it moved through the process, it would have set our state on the road to a sustainable budget. We introduced our detailed education budget three weeks ago, as part of our Fund Education First plan. This operating budget is a continuation of how we would prioritize state spending to create balance the budget and put education first, not hold it hostage for a tax increase.
The House Democrats released their operating budget proposal on Feb. 21, and it will likely be voted on in the House this week. In comparison, the House Democrats' budget proposal introduced this week reflects a different set of priorities. I appreciate how difficult it is to write a budget, but the majority party's budget uses gimmicks, like paying our schools one month late to push the payment into the next budget. This would mean that the next budget will already be hundreds of millions of dollars in the hole before the budgeting process even begins! We didn't use these types of gimmicks and, in fact, fund education first in a separate budget.
Their budget also makes severe reductions to local governments, then allows local governments to raise taxes with out a vote of the people to “buy back” those cuts. Passing the burden on to local governments, many of which are also struggling right now, is unwise in my opinion. I also fear this is type of new local government taxing authority is an end-run around the voter-approved Initiative 1053 that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people to increase taxes. Voters in the 47th District approved I-1053 by more than 60 percent. For an overview of the budget released by House Democrats this week, click here.
Here are some specific concerns I have with their budget, including cuts to programs impacting the disabled community:
- Shifts $405 million in education apportionment money and levy equalization payments into the next budget cycle;
- Increases the Nursing Home Safety Net Assessment from $11/day to $19/day (maximum allowed under federal law);
- Reduces Adult Day Health by 20 percent;
- Increases Adult Family Home license fees from $175 per bed to $370 per bed;
- Reduces the length of supervision to 12 months for all offenders except sex offenders, who will be supervised for 24 months (reduced from the current 36 months);
- Reduces by 50 percent mental health services for individuals transitioning from jail;
- Eliminates funding from the Municipal Criminal Justice Assistance, County Criminal Justice Assistance, Rural County Sales Tax Credit programs, and the Beer Tax Distribution to local governments effective Dec. 31, 2012;
- Eliminates all state funding for local public health districts and replaces this funding with the local share of the liquor excise tax (representing about a 20 percent funding reduction for local public health districts);
- Eliminates state funding for municipal and district court judge salaries; and
- Assumes passage of an omnibus local government tax bill establishing new taxing authority whereby local councils can approve tax increases without a vote of the people to offset state funding reductions.
You can view a side-by-side comparison of House Republican and Democrat plans here.
No need for a special session
We've voted on hundreds of bills this session that have nothing to do with the budget. And I think the same-sex marriage bill took up more time than any other bill so far. That's why we worked until almost midnight the final days before the deadline for bills to be out of each chamber.
Now with just two weeks left in the session, I am concerned that so much time has been wasted. We have little time to adequately debate a budget that spends a record amount of your money – a revenue increase of two billion dollars over last biennium.
The original plan was to move the budget bill forward on Friday, Feb. 24, debate it on the floor Saturday, and then send it to the Senate on Monday. This would ensure we actually end on time – March 8. But we learned Friday morning the majority party decided we would not debate the House budget over the weekend. We have known since last September we had a big job ahead – we were even here for a special session in December – but even that didn't speed up the majority party's work in the budget. Taxpayers expect us to do the job for which they hired us, and on time.