Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Although we needed 176 days and three special sessions, the 2015 legislative session is now over. The Legislature has held 13 special sessions in the last 10 years, which is a disappointing record, but I believe much of what we accomplished this year will serve Washingtonians well.
Take, for example, the 2015-17 operating budget we passed on a strong bipartisan basis. While it is not perfect, I believe it is a very strong two-year budget. As a member of the House Education and House Higher Education committees, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to vote for a budget that invests $1.3 billion in K-12 education, reduces K-3 class size, funds teacher COLAs, and provides a tuition reduction for the first time since the 1970s. At a time when more of our college students are graduating with exorbitant debts, that is very welcome news. Take a look at the Seattle Times graphic on the left to see how the tuition reduction we passed will help our college students and their families.
Additionally, the fact there are no major tax increases in this budget is a huge win for the taxpayers of Washington state. At one point in the negotiations, $1.5 billion in tax increases were on the table, but the final budget did not include a new capital gains tax or carbon tax, and does not increase the general sales tax or business and occupation tax. I am proud of the leadership displayed by Senate Republicans and the House Republican leadership team in standing firm against new taxes at a time when we have $3.2 billion in new revenue coming into the state. This budget is stable and predictable, and serves Washingtonians well.
I was also pleased with the two-year capital budget the Legislature passed. The budget provides for the priorities and immediate needs of our state, and contains more than $60 million for local projects in the 47th District, including:
- Phoenix Rising – This project will provide homes for up to 24 homeless youth. These youth will also receive behavioral support and job training.
- Kent East Hill YMCA – As one of Washington's fastest-growing communities, children and families in Kent will soon have a YMCA they can attend for all sorts of recreational activities.
- Covington Community Park – This $5 million project will help add more features to the park, such as a performance stage, tennis court and picnic shelters.
- SoCo Park – A shortage of neighborhood parks led to this project that will bring more park area to downtown Covington.
- Soos Creek Hatchery – This hatchery has been supporting the local salmon population for more than 100 years. The $15 million investment in the hatchery will help rebuild its water supply intake to meet federal and state criteria and keep the facilities out of the floodplain.
I'm grateful House Democrats and Republicans came together in compromise to provide funding for much-needed infrastructure improvements and community projects. Along with the projects listed above, the budget provides funds for K-12 and higher education school construction, reduces K-3 class sizes, increases funding for mental health bed capacity, prioritizes housing for veterans and other vulnerable individuals, and more.
One spending plan I was unable to support was the $16 billion transportation package that will raise the state's gas tax by 11.9 cents (drivers will begin paying the first seven cents of the increase at the pump on Aug. 1). Our gas tax will now be 67.8 cents per gallon, including the 18.4 cent federal gas tax. Had the hike been 12 cents instead of 11.9, we would have the highest gas tax in the nation. It is these kind of games that people get tired of, myself included. Having the second-highest gas tax in the nation by 0.1 cent doesn't make me feel better about the fact the Legislature passed the largest tax increase in state history without the people having any say. In fact, there was an amendment proposed that would have put the gas-tax increase on the ballot, but it was defeated with a 52-46 vote.
While there are some good projects in the package that are vital to our area, the massive tax increase, as well as the increase in weight and registration fees, and the lack of serious reforms to fix a dysfunctional transportation system compelled me to cast a “no” vote.
A quick note on legislation I introduced this session
House Bill 1800, which I sponsored in order to get abandoned foster kids into stable, loving homes more quickly, got to the concurrence stage during the session. At this stage, the House agreeing with the minor amendments the Senate made to the bill would have sent the measure to the governor to be signed into law. Unfortunately, that never happened because the majority party didn't allow the vote to take place. When the bill was first heard in both chambers, it was approved unanimously in the House and 28-20 in the Senate. It is unfortunate that political hijinks behind the scenes stopped a bill that was previously passed. That is a clear sign of a broken system.
I also want to let you know I am working on legislation that would enable more students to receive the State Need Grant — which provides financial aid to income-eligible students pursuing postsecondary education — without increasing the cost to the state by better utilizing our fantastic, but less expensive community colleges.
Please continue to stay in touch with me during the interim with any comments, concerns or questions you have. I am here to serve you year-round, and always enjoy hearing from you. My contact information is below.
Thank you for the honor of serving as your state representative.