Dear Friends and Neighbors,
For much of this session, I was optimistic we would finish our work on time and avoid yet another special session. As we inched closer and closer to the March 10 deadline, however, it became clear that wasn't going to happen. The problem is a disagreement between House Democrats and Senate Republicans on the supplemental operating budget. House Democrats are holding on to unreasonable budget positions and negotiating with money that doesn't exist without the $120 million in tax increases they're proposing. They don't have enough of their members willing to vote for the tax increases, so their proposal doesn't even work for their own caucus. Their budget proposal also relies on Budget Stabilization Account funds for non-emergencies, which would leave the state vulnerable during the next economic downturn. In addition, their plan doesn't prioritize education since it does not keep class-size reduction funding in the required four-year budget outlook.
The fact is we should have been able to adjourn on time. The supplemental operating budget is for making minor adjustments to the 2015-17 operating budget we passed last year, and also paying for emergencies. To force us into a special session because of a desire to raise taxes is very disappointing to me.
Also disappointing was the governor's decision to veto 27 bills that came to his desk because the Legislature didn't pass a supplemental budget. These include bills that would have:
- Removed obstacles for higher education students with disabilities;
- Promoted economic development through the Washington State Department of Commerce;
- Reduced the out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs; and
- Increased the availability of affordable housing.
Each of these bills took hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours to get passed. Now we have a Legislature that is angry and has to go through the process of passing the same legislation once again. I have to think there was a better course of action the governor could have taken.
Saving charter schools in Washington state
Last week, the House passed Senate Bill 6194 to save voter-approved public charter schools in Washington state. Although we're in the minority, House Republicans took the lead on this issue and controlled floor action all the way through to the final vote. It was fascinating to experience. Acting as the majority for this one vote, Republicans actually listened to the minority and we even changed our minds to support an amendment they proposed that we had previously opposed. That is how our government is supposed to work – listening to each other, debating, and voting in a bipartisan way. It may not have made the news, but it was one of my favorite moments since becoming a legislator.
I'm pleased we were able to pass the bill and once again bring hope to the students and families who thought charter schools might no longer be an option for them. These schools are important because they provide choice, they're innovative, and they're working. Senate Bill 6194 is now on the governor's desk.
Increasing state trooper pay
The number of state troopers has fallen from 690 to 580 in recent years partially because of retirements, but also because we're losing them to other law enforcement agencies that can offer better pay. That's why I was glad to see broad, bipartisan support for House Bill 2872, which provides another 5 percent increase in pay for our state troopers for a total 15 percent bump over two years. It's very expensive to train new troopers, so the money spent on efforts to retain the troopers we currently have actually saves the state money. That's why I supported the bill, which is now on the governor's desk.
Speaking with students from Grass Lake Elementary
I really enjoyed speaking with the 4th grade students from Grass Lake Elementary in Covington. The very first time I visited the Capitol, I was with my daughter Kimberly's 4th grade class in this very room! Little did I know I would be back in that room more than 20 years later, serving as state representative. Next year, Kimberly's daughter, Mackenzie, will be in 4th grade!
Please continue getting in touch with me with any comments, questions or concerns. 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.