Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It is with great disappointment I write to you with news that the Legislature adjourned yesterday, April 23. However, that does not mean lawmakers wrapped up work on the state operating budget on time. It's unclear how much more time negotiators will take to come to an agreement on the budget, but we do know we have at least 30 days before the special session adjourns.
During special session, members of leadership and budget negotiators will remain in Olympia to hammer out a budget deal while the rest of lawmakers, including me, will have the opportunity to return home. We are a part-time Legislature, and many of us have other jobs aside from representing our districts in Olympia during the legislative sessions. While I'm looking forward to being back home so I can work on some construction projects and reconnect with people in our community, it's disappointing the Legislature failed to finish its work on time.
Operating budget the major sticking point
The cause for overtime is lack of an agreement between the two chambers on a new, two-year operating budget. Right now, two proposals exist — one from House Democrats and another from Senate Republicans. Where these budgets differ is spending and tax increases.
House Democrats' spending plan would increase spending by 34 percent over four years. This rate of increased spending significantly outpaces the earning rate of those, the taxpayers, being asked to pay for their plan. To fund their new spending, they've proposed to raise taxes by roughly $8 billion, which would include a capital gains tax and a 20 percent B&O tax increase. While they call their plan a “families first budget,” some of their proposed tax increases would hurt families most by adversely affecting day care, grocery distribution and hospitals.
That said, House Democrats have yet to pass their $8 billion tax package, making their budget proposal incomplete and leaving Senate Republicans in a much better negotiating position.
Senate Republicans have a different approach. Their budget proposal doesn't rely on major tax increases and they took a prioritized spending approach to their plan by making K-12 education the top priority, and funding services for the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, and foster children.
These two budget proposals also differ on education funding. Both have prioritized K-12 education in their budgets, yet Senate Republicans have included fundamental reforms to our regressive levy system that would, pending court review, alleviate concerns of another McCleary-esque lawsuit.
No plan is perfect, and the final budget will likely look very different from either of these two budget proposals. Stay tuned as negotiations progress for further updates.
The operating budget isn't the only budget up for consideration this year. We also have transportation and capital budgets we must pass.
Both chambers have now passed the transportation budget and it's awaiting the governor's signature. Though I initially did not support the budget as originally passed by the House, the Senate was able to request additional reforms that made the budget more palatable for me to support.
The capital budget — sometimes called the “bricks and mortar budget” — funds infrastructure and construction projects throughout the state. Negotiations are ongoing but I'm optimistic we'll be able to secure a number of important projects for Whatcom County, including additional funds for the Pepin Creek stream corridor.
With special session comes one silver lining: bills that were previously considered “dead” for the year can now be revived. That means Senate Bill 5239 — generally regarded as the 'Hirst fix' legislation — can now be reconsidered so long as the Senate chooses to pass it out of their chamber and back over to the House for a second round of consideration.
Throughout session, so many families have reached out to us asking — begging — for a solution to the court's October decision that imperiled development in rural Whatcom County and communities throughout our state. Just last Tuesday, the Whatcom County Council voted to place a 6-month moratorium on development relying on domestic wells.
Make no mistake: This is not just a rural issue. As property values decline in rural areas, urban Washington will be forced to take care of the bill.
I am committed to working with my colleagues in both chambers to enact a solution this year. I am encouraged to see Democratic lawmakers making the same commitment. During a March press conference, Rep. Kristine Lytton — a Democrat and fellow Whatcom County representative — said she, too, wants to see a Hirst fix this year.
Telephone town hall recap
Thank you to everyone who participated in Rep. Van Werven's and my telephone town hall earlier this month. At one point, we had 689 listeners on our call. During the hour-long conversation, we covered a variety of topics, from the Hirst decision and education funding, to access to medical marijuana and reducing the costs of textbooks for college students.
We also asked a series of poll questions during the call. Here are the results:
Question 1: One of the tax proposals on the table this session is a capital gains tax. Do you support paying higher taxes in order to further fund K-12 education, or would you prefer government funds education with the revenue already available?
41.7 percent – I want more dollars to go toward students and schools, but believe government can do so within existing funds.
39.6 percent – I think education is funded adequately and we do not need to create or raise taxes to pay for basic education.
18.7 percent – I am willing to pay more in taxes in order for government to dedicate more dollars for education.
Question 2: Would you support the Legislature enacting a carbon tax that would increase energy costs to families and businesses?
76.1 percent – No
23.9 percent – Yes
Question 3: It's the state's paramount duty to amply fund basic education for all Washington students. Aside from K-12 education, which area is of the highest priority to you?
40.2 percent – Health care and human services
37.1 percent – Public safety
13.4 percent – Transportation
9.3 percent – Higher education
Staying connected during special session
Even though the regular session has adjourned, my work as your state representative continues. I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions about the progress being made during special session, want to know what happened to a specific bill, or have policy or reform ideas for next year's legislative session. My direct contact information is below and I look forward to hearing from you!
It's an honor serving you.