Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now in a second special session as budget negotiators still have not come to an agreement on the 2015-17 operating budget. However, both sides continue to make progress in the negotiations, which is encouraging. House Democrats and Senate Republicans recently released their revised budget proposals, both of which show significant compromises. House Democrats, who had been adamant about the need for $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes for the operating budget, have now stripped that down to $550 million. Unfortunately, they would still like to see the implementation of a new capital gains tax.
The bottom line is there shouldn't be any talk of raising taxes. Washington state has $3.2 billion in new revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle according to May's revenue forecast. That's a 9.2 percent increase from the last budget cycle. Even Gov. Inslee, who supported billions of dollars in tax increases back in December, recently changed his mind on the matter. It is time for the majority party in the House to understand tax increases are unnecessary. If they were to come to that conclusion, as the governor did, budget negotiations could wrap up tomorrow.
The Senate Republicans' budget continues to provide the best framework for our state. It doesn't increase taxes and makes major investments in the priorities of state government by investing $1.2 billion in schools, providing teachers COLAs, improving our mental health system, reducing tuition by 25 percent, and more.
We have done some great work this session, and despite the two special sessions, I still believe the Legislature is better than it was when I first got here in January 2011. It's just a shame we couldn't get the budget completed on time to demonstrate to the public that we truly are operating at a higher level. It is now time for us to come together and complete the work you sent us here to do.
A word on the recent teacher walk-outs
While I am disappointed at the teacher walk-outs that have taken place recently, I do understand the many concerns educators have been voicing. I want to assure them, and you, that we are working hard to create a world-class education system in Washington state. The 2015-17 operating budget is going to fund education at a level not seen in the past 25 years, as both the House and Senate budget proposals include at least $1.2 billion in additional education spending. Cost of living adjustments (COLAs) are funded for the first time since 2009 in both budgets as well.
Here is a fuller picture of what is likely to be included in the final budget:
- A nearly 18 percent increase in K-12 education funding.
- $1.28 billion to $1.32 billion to satisfy the requirements of the McCleary decision.
- $350 million to $402 million for K-3 class size reductions.
- $180 million to $188 million for all-day kindergarten.
- $741 million for maintenance, supplies and operating costs.
- $232 million to $385 million for K-12 employee COLAs.
The 2015-17 budget will fund many of the priorities educators are most concerned about. While I believe walk-outs are counterproductive and hurt students, I do hear teachers' frustrations. We all want the best education system possible, and legislators are working hard with their communities to provide that.
Please continue to get in touch with me with any comments, questions or concerns you have about the budget or any other topic. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (360) 786-7918.
It is an honor to serve you in the Legislature.