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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
For the first time since 2014, the Legislature adjourned on time this year. That was a bit of good news in what was otherwise quite a challenging session. With Democrats in control of both chambers, we experienced a lot less bipartisanship and a lot more division, which was unfortunate.
In fact, during one floor debate on a Democrat-sponsored bill to force in-home caregivers to join a union and pay dues, many of us were gaveled down for daring to mention what the bill was really about. You can learn more by listening to this audio report. It was not our intention to abstain from voting on the bill, but when we're not allowed to speak freely and share the real concerns our constituents have, we're not going to validate that process by voting.
House Republicans were also largely shut out of supplemental operating budget negotiations. While we were able to get some budget amendments adopted (scroll down on this page to see the amendments we introduced), we were not in the room for final negotiations. That's a shame because we've heard over and over again we're “One Washington.” Well, when 48 of 98 House members are locked out of the process, how can that be the case?
The 2018 supplemental operating budget increases state spending by $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, and another $600 million in the 2019-21 biennium. That represents a nearly 16 percent increase in spending from the time the 2015-17 operating budget was enacted. That's unsustainable, and for us to spend nearly every cent of the extra revenue we're projected to bring in over the next four years means we're leaving ourselves vulnerable to the next economic downturn.
Most of the extra revenue should have gone into the constitutionally protected Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), also known as the state's rainy day fund. However, the majority party used a budget gimmick to divert money away from the BSA, and thereby established a precedent that any time we don't want to put money into the account, we don't have to.
Budgeting is about priorities, and while K-12 teachers and staff will reap $776 million of the $1.2 billion in new spending, homeowners will have to wait until 2019 to see property tax relief. Republicans proposed bills to provide meaningful relief this year, but just $390 million in cuts were approved by the majority party in the final budget. I think we could have done a lot better than offering a 30-cent rebate for every $1,000 of value.
Where we also could have done better is providing Sound Transit car-tab relief. None was approved this year by the majority party, and no reforms were adopted.
The last bit of bad news before I move on to the bright spots of session is that both of my bills ended up dying in the Senate. House Bill 2419 would have eased restrictions on how Washington-based microbreweries and wineries sell their products at farmers markets, and House Bill 2420 would have required the state Board of Health to adopt less burdensome rules surrounding the inspection or repair of private septic systems.
I introduced these bills to help small businesses and private landowners, and had hoped they would make it all the way through the legislative process. Unfortunately, the clock ran out on the session before they could make it to the Senate floor.
Now, to the good news
I did mention there was some good to come out of the session, which is true. The best news was that the majority party didn't end up having enough votes in either caucus to pass a capital gains income tax or a carbon tax. That's a big win for every taxpayer in Washington state.
Secondly, while much of the session was contentious, there was actually strong bipartisan collaboration on the supplemental capital and transportation budgets. In my role as assistant ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, I attend budget meetings three nights per week during session. I can truly say everyone involved in the process gets along, and while we may have different approaches, we are often able to compromise. If only it was that way with everything else in the Legislature.
I recently recorded a video update that provides an overview of the transportation projects currently underway in and around the 47th District. I invite you to watch it by clicking on the image below.
One project I meant to include in the video is a new roundabout that will be installed at the intersection of Willis and 4th Ave. in downtown Kent. The roundabout will allow traffic to exit off of Highway 167 more quickly, hopefully eliminating exiting traffic from backing up onto the highway.
Although session has now adjourned, I am here to serve you year-round. If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to call or email me anytime. My contact information is below.
It is an honor to serve you.
436 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7918 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000