Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Two weeks remain in the legislative session and it appears there is a good chance we may adjourn within our 60-day timeframe. Last week, House Republicans introduced the first budget of the 2012 legislative session. This week House Democrats unveiled their proposal. While there are great differences in the two proposals, it gives us two weeks to hammer out an agreement and leave Olympia on time. I am anxious to return to the 8th Legislative District to meet with constituents, local elected officials, groups and organizations to work even harder to get Washington working on the right track again.
Telephone Town Hall
I want to remind you that Rep. Larry Haler, Sen. Jerome Delvin and I are a hosting a telephone town hall meeting Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. The community conversation begins at 6:30 p.m. and will last one hour. To participate, you may call the toll-free number at 1-877-229-8493 and enter the code 15802 when prompted. During the telephone town hall, the legislators will listen to residents, answer questions and discuss a variety of topics related to the 2012 session. Once on the line, you may select star 3 on your telephone keypad to ask a question or they can simply listen in and take part in instant polls. There will also be an opportunity at the end of the call to leave a message for us.
House Republican Budget
The House Republican budget proposal was released Friday, Feb. 17. Our budget approach was to create an “all-priorities” budget that funds education first, protects public safety, and protects the most vulnerable – all without increasing tax rates. It defines our priorities and principles. Being in the minority and still putting out a complete budget proposal is very unusual. However, House Republicans felt we needed to provide the public with something to contrast with the majority party's budget. If you want more information on our proposal, click all-priorities budget. We introduced our education-only budget a couple weeks ago, as part of our Fund Education First plan.
House Democrat Budget
The House Democrat budget proposal introduced this week reflects a different set of priorities. It takes the same kick-the-can down the road approach we have seen in past budgets. It shifts education apportionment money and levy equalization payments into the next biennium, to make it the responsibility of future Legislatures. It also makes severe reductions to local governments but then allows local governments to raise taxes to buy-back those cuts. Instead of responsible budgeting, the Democrats are going to pass the burden on to local governments. This also looks a little like they're trying to do an end-run around the two-thirds vote requirement for raising taxes at the state level. For an overview of the House Democrat budget click here. Here are some other concerns I have with their budget:
- Increases the Nursing Home Safety Net Assessment from $11/day to $19/day (maximum allowed under federal law).
- Reduces Adult Day Health by 20 percent.
- Increases Adult Family Home license fees from $175 per bed to $370 per bed.
- Reduces the length of supervision for sex offenders from 36 to 24 months.
- Reduces mental health services for individuals transitioning from jail by 50 percent.
- Eliminates all fair funding effective March 2012.
- Eliminates funding from the Municipal Criminal Justice Assistance, County Criminal Justice Assistance, Rural County Sales Tax Credit programs, and the Beer Tax Distribution to local governments effective December 31, 2012.
- Eliminates most state funding for local public health districts and replaces this funding with the local share of the liquor excise tax (representing about a 20 percent funding reduction for local public health districts).
- Eliminates state funding for municipal and district court judge salaries.
- Assumes passage of a major local government tax bill establishing new authority for local governments to impose tax increases without voter approval to offset state funding reductions.
For a full comparison of the House Republican and Democrat budgets click on this: “House budget comparisons.”
We have passed about 250 bills out of the House, and interestingly, very few, if any, promote job growth and stimulate the economy. The Legislature's lack of action on this issue impacts our state economy, consumer confidence and future business investment. Our regulatory environment makes it difficult to compete with other states and keep jobs. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released its annual 50-state review of regulations and employment laws. The report indicates that with an improved regulatory climate 18,000 jobs could be added in Washington. Unfortunately, our state ranked “poor” for labor and employment laws and regulations – the lowest rating in the report.
Factors contributing to Washington's poor showing include:
- Numerous labor and employment mandates that exceed federal standards;
- Daily overtime rate requirement on public construction contracts;
- Very high wage ceiling for income subject to unemployment insurance taxes;
- State's minimum wage is in excess of the federal minimum wage; and
- No right-to-work protections.
Our caucus has a “Top 10” list of bills we think are extremely beneficial to our employers and the jobs market in Washington. We believe the measures could help stimulate the economy, promote job growth and give our employers some certainty. House Republican leadership presented the list to the governor before session and the majority party has failed to enact or even move
one of our bills through the legislative process.
Here is the House Republican Caucus Top 10:
1) Worker's compensation reform (HB 1872) – House Republicans support substantive changes to address final settlement options and other reforms to bring certainty and contain costs to the system, minimize time loss, and protect earnings for those who suffer work-related injuries and illness.
2) Modify joint and several liability (HB 1779) – Alleviate the high risk of tort claims on government and business irrespective of degree of fault.
3) Delay changes to the State Energy Code (HB 1388) – Delay implementation and direct the State Building Code Council to adequately address economic impact and cost-benefit ratio of the new rules.
4) Suspend GMA requirements in counties with significant and persistent unemployment (HB 1592) – Alleviate the cost and encumbrance of controlling growth when none is occurring and when those regulations stand in the way of badly needed economic development.
5) Require permit decisions in 90 days (HB 1961) – Require agencies to make permit decisions in 90 days or it is granted. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays in permit decisions in order to significantly stimulate economic activity. Let's free up those who are ready to put people to work.
6) Moratorium on rulemaking (HB 1156) – We support the governor's decision to suspend unnecessary rulemaking and would extend the moratorium for three years or until state revenue growth shows evidence of economic recovery.
7) Reclassify hydropower as renewable energy (HB 1125) – When we sell our inexpensive hydro power to California, it qualifies as renewable. In Washington it does not. Let's recapture our state's competitive advantage of offering abundant, affordable clean energy for manufacturers and consumers.
8) Make unfunded mandates on schools and local governments optional (HB 1855) – Recognize that local communities are as strapped as state government and cannot afford the burden of costly state mandates.
9) Double small business B&O tax credit (HB 1672) – Incentivize start-ups and ensure viability of small businesses that are the backbone of our economy.
10) Regulatory Freedom and Accountability Act. (House Bill 2276) would save taxpayer dollars by streamlining government operations, ending duplicative state services and targeting government waste.
There are many other measures along with our “Top 10” we think are workable solutions to provide needed momentum for economic recovery and enhanced revenue growth for Washington. Let's live within our means like everyone else and give employers some economic stability and certainty. When businesses are successful, people are working and revenue is generated to pay for education, public safety and services to care for our most vulnerable.
Thank you for allowing me the great honor to serve you. God bless you one and all!