Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have one more week of the 2013 legislative session. April 28 is the final day, and we will need to have all three budgets – state operating, capital and transportation – agreed upon and passed by then. At this point we are often working late into the night passing bills and debating issues.
My hope is those at the negotiating table find common ground on sensible, responsible and sustainable budgets that respect taxpayers. House Republicans are at the table and are presenting solid solutions that I hope will rein in the Democrat spending plan and get us out on time.
Below is a short update on the transportation budget passed this week and tax proposals being introduced by House Democrats.
Please contact me with questions on these or other issues.
The House passed the transportation budget this week. I was torn on my voting decision because I recognized frugal decisions by the committee chair and appreciated her supporting passage of some of the easier reform bills. But the significant cost-saving reforms that we really need were not included in the package.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with the governor a couple of weeks ago on the need to bring down costs on our transportation projects. He said, “Yes, I'm all about LEAN management.” I responded that when our projects cost nearly double what they do in other states, just being “lean” and more efficient is not enough. We need to make the major reforms that are in several bills that my colleagues and I offered, but never received a vote, or in many cases, even a public hearing.
As I've said from the first day I decided to seek this office,the jobs is all about priorities. Government can't do everything. Budget writers say that finishing Highways 167 and 509 to connect to the the Port of Tacoma is their top transportation priority. But, clearly, it's not. When environmental mitigation, transit, permitting, bike lanes, etc., account for more than half of project costs, we can see the underlying true top priorities.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about: When a major bridge in Minneapolis came down a couple of years ago, Minnesota put aside the regulation obstacles and excessive permitting and environmental mitigation and got the bridge rebuilt inexpensively in a year or so. They made actually building the bridge a priority!
Here in Washington state, the design and permitting of the new 520 Bridge took 17 years and, even after adjusting for inflation, will cost 20 times what the original bridge cost! We simply cannot continue to operate this way.
We did get a hint that cost-saving reform is possible when last year the Legislature approved an exception to the Shoreline Management Act for the 520 Bridge project. With the governor's signature, this saved taxpayers $165 million. Just think what we can do if we implement this type of reform all across the state!
We cannot wait until an economic emergency, such as the Panama Canal opening or East Coast and Canadian ports taking our business and jobs, before we finally make Highway 167 a priority. Waiting is not an option if we want a strong economy!
The House Democrats' solution is a package of tax proposals that were just introduced. I can't support asking my constituents to pay a lot more to fill their gas tanks and renew car tabs when we're spending roughly double what we should on these projects. If we make the actual construction of road projects our real priority, we can build them for nearly half the cost. This is reform I can support.
The “close tax loopholes” to fund K-12 education debate
Over the past couple weeks, several bills were introduced with titles such as, “Funding K-12 basic education by eliminating tax preferences.” Sounds good, right? However, the real message is the House Democratic budget does not prioritize education. Their plan funds everything else first and requires $905 million in new and higher taxes to fund education. It also indicates to me that education is not their priority. If it were, it would be funded first, like the House Republican and Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget proposals do.
Once again we're hearing, “We have to raise taxes so we can fund education, police, etc.” I believe it's budget shell games like this that turn the public away from the legislative process. They are losing faith that those in charge can balance the budget responsibly.
How about we try something new? Let's fund education, public safety and protection of our truly most vulnerable first. Then, those who think we need an increased budget can argue to taxpayers that we need to raise taxes for other government programs.
Before I close this e-mail, I'd like to mention that it is popular to say we need to “close tax loopholes,” which many think is big businesses' way around the tax system. In reality, tax exemptions that previous legislatures debated and passed through both the House and Senate with approval by the governor were done so in an effort to improve our economy. These incentives affect many small businesses, and you and me personally. I believe it is important that we thoroughly evaluate if tax exemptions are achieving the objectives for which they were designed, however if we did do away with all tax exemptions, we'd all start paying sales tax on our groceries!
Watch my video update on the House Democrat budget, next steps in the budget process