Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This week, the Legislature adjourned it's first special session and began a second, 30-day special session. The reason for overtime remains to be lack of an agreement over a new, two-year operating budget. While it's unclear whether lawmakers will need the full 30 days to wrap up their work, it seems no one has an appetite for a third special session. My hope is in a few weeks, I'll have better news to report.
For now, here's a brief breakdown of where budget negotiations are now, and how the other two budgets — capital and transportation — have progressed.
At the heart of the operating budget discussion is reforming the way the state pays for K-12 education. In the 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ruled the state must end it's overreliance on local levies to fund basic education. Approaches for how to satisfy the court differ between the majority parties in the House and Senate.
In the House, Democrats have proposed placing limits on how levies can be spent and raising taxes by $8 billion to fund education and other state programs and services. Among those taxes would be a capital gains tax, which is really just the first step to an income tax, and a 20 percent B&O tax increase. State revenues have shown significant improvements in the last few forecasts, and I don't believe massively raising taxes — especially when voters have rejected an income tax nine times in the past — is the best move for Washington's economy. This week, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted Seattle's income tax would “undo” the city's economic success. Let's not see that happen throughout the rest of the state.
Across the rotunda, Senate Republicans would rather replace local levies with a flat rate state property tax to ensure students throughout the state receive equitable funding.
Since June of last year, House Republicans have been working on a McCleary funding plan. During negotiations, Reps. Paul Harris and David Taylor of our McCleary negotiating team have brought forth our solutions. In our latest briefing on the progress of negotiations, we learned the House Republican plan is now being used as the framework for the final McCleary solution that will eventually emerge. It's encouraging to see our work be adopted as a guide for creating a system that will give all Washington students a quality and equitable education.
Reforming the way we fund our K-12 education system is arguably the single-most important thing we'll do as a legislative body this biennium, and our ability to make significant headway on satisfying the court will dictate how the remainder of operating budget negotiations will go.
The capital budget is sometimes referred to as the 'brick and mortar budget' because it funds infrastructure and construction projects throughout the state. Negotiations on this budget reached a standstill at the end of the regular session in April when Senate Capital Budget Committee Chair Jim Honeyford said negotiations couldn't continue until a solution to the Hirst decision was in place.
During the first special session, Senate Republicans sent a message loud and clear to the House Democrat majority. On the first day of the first special session, the Senate passed Senator Judy Warnick's Hirst-fix bill, Senate Bill 5239. It's now up to the House to make a move and recognize the devastating impacts Hirst has on rural communities
Stay tuned for more updates on Hirst and capital budget projects that will affect Whatcom County.
Last week, the governor signed a new, two-year transportation budget. Building off the $16 billion Connecting Washington transportation package the Legislature passed in 2015, this new budget implements some Connecting Washington projects and will help recruit and retain highly qualified state troopers, study and repair structurally deficient bridges, and fund the continued operation of state ferries.
Here are some local improvement projects that received funding:
- A new northbound on-ramp at Bakerview Rd. to provide congestion relief;
- An additional NEXUS lane on SR 539 between H Street and the Lynden-Aldergrove Port of Entry at the U.S./Canada border;
- Repairs to North 8th Street in Lynden where a sinkhole caused damage; and
- Construction for an overpass at Thornton Road in Ferndale.
For a full list of projects, click here and select the 42nd Legislative District.
Rep. Luanne Van Werven and I were disappointed to see the governor veto a critical project for Blaine. The rebuild of Exit 274 in Blaine is perhaps one of the most-needed projects in Whatcom County, and would have improved freight mobility and attracted more jobs to our district. Unfortunately, the governor sided with a meaningless technicality rather than with rural Washington. You can read our full statement here.
During this special session, I encourage you to reach out to me with your questions, ideas and feedback. It's an honor serving you!