Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are getting closer to the end of session, and I remain optimistic that we will be able to finish our work on time. I don't see any reason why we should need a special session.
House Democrats will be releasing their two-year operating budget proposal this week, and I expect it will include new taxes and/or tax increases. However, with $3 billion more in revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle, which equates to an 8 percent increase from the current budget cycle, we don't need to ask for more revenue. I believe we should be able to agree on a budget that doesn't rely on new or higher taxes, and focus our efforts on making government more efficient and responsive to your needs.
I want to hear from you! Please take a few moments to answer the following survey questions:
1) What issue is most important to you?
2) Generally speaking, would you say things in Washington state are heading in the right direction, or are they on the wrong track?
3) The state Senate has passed a transportation funding package that includes an 11.7-cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase over the next three years. Would you support this increase in the gas tax to fund transportation improvements?
4) If the Legislature needs more money to fully fund education, how should we pay for it?
To answer each of the questions, click here.
An update on the flu shot mandate for foster parents
As you know, I have been working hard to eliminate the new flu shot mandate for foster families that care for children under two years of age. My first step was to meet with officials from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and urge them to at least suspend the rule, if not eliminate it altogether. They decided against that, so as a result, I introduced legislation that would have eliminated the mandate. Fourteen Republicans signed on to the bill, but for some reason, no Democrats decided to join us. Despite my best efforts, the chair of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee did not give the bill a hearing, and so it died in committee.
Throughout the process, I repeatedly warned that this mandate was unnecessary and would push foster parents away. Sure enough, the Seattle Times reported last week that more than 400 foster parents have already asked to change their licenses because of the mandate. I had wondered if the state truly believed that enforcing this mandate was worth the cost of seeing foster parents leave the system, and now I have my answer. There was no need for it, and the officials at DSHS owe an apology to the foster children who will be affected as a result.
Reducing college tuition needs to become more of a priority
In the 2004 fiscal year, Washington state was paying for 65 percent of college students' tuition at four-year institutions, while students were paying 35 percent. Today, the state pays 38 percent of their tuition, while students foot 62 percent of the bill (see chart). This has led to a greater reliance on student loans, and more and more students facing exorbitant debt upon graduation.
In both 2013 and 2014, the Legislature froze tuition at the state's public colleges — but freezes alone are not enough. We need to start working to reduce tuition costs. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, introduced Senate Bill 5954 earlier in the session to do just that. The bill, which passed 37-12 in the Senate, would cap tuition costs at the state's public universities and colleges at a percentage of the average wage of the state. Put simply, that means more than $200 million in tuition cuts for students.
The bill is now in the House Higher Education Committee, of which I'm a member. I am happy to report it is scheduled to receive a hearing in the committee tomorrow.
In my most recent video update, I talk more about the Seattle Times' story about foster parents leaving the system. I also offer a recap of the town hall meeting I held with Sen. Fain over the weekend, and answer a question about what my message is to legislators who say we need new taxes or tax increases. Take a look!
In addition to receiving your responses to the survey questions above, I want to hear any comments, questions or concerns you may have for me. Please don't hesitate to reach out at any time. My phone number is (360) 786-7918, and my email address is email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
Thank you for the privilege of serving you in the state House of Representatives.