Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 153 days in session, the Legislature finally adjourned on June 29. Our budget situation was not a crisis, so I did not buy into the hype of a possible government shutdown. We had approximately $2.5 billion more in state tax revenue coming in for this biennial budget than we did for the last budget cycle. That is roughly a 7 percent increase. I believe many of us knew how important it was to reach a deal by July 1, so we would not impact those who rely on government services – particularly our elderly and disabled, and those who punch the clock every day as they go to work for our great state.
After long negotiations involving members of both chambers and parties, this operating budget represents a solid compromise that invests heavily in education by dedicating more than $1 billion in new investments in K-12. This gets us on track to meeting our education funding goals mandated by the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary decision. The total education budget for the 2013-15 biennium is $15.1 billion up from the $13.6 billion in the last biennium. There are $31.1 million in policy enhancements and the $1 billion for McCleary includes:
- $104 million: K-1 class-size reduction
- $90 million: Full-day kindergarten beginning with at-risk student populations
- $97 million: Increased instructional hours grades 7-12
- $132 million: Pupil transportation
- $143 million: Learning Assistance Program (LAP)
- $24 million: Counselors and parent coordinators
- $19 million: Bilingual education
- $15 million: Teacher-Principal Evaluation Program (TPEP)
- $10 million: Struggling schools
- $374 million: Materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOC)
Higher education also benefited – for the first time in nearly three decades the budget does not include tuition increases. Finally, the budget leaves more money in reserves than past budgets with $630 million in reserves including $577 million in the state's rainy day fund.
Like any compromise budget, there are some elements I do not support and have some concerns, including:
- There are $519 million in fund transfers and revenue redirection.
- It uses $158 million to backfill funds taken from the capital budget.
- It takes money out of the state Public Works Trust Fund, the account our local governments rely on for infrastructure and construction projects.
- It doesn't include any of the workers' compensation reforms we proposed that protect workers and employers, while helping our small businesses aiding the economic recovery and our state's bottom line.
- It includes $159 million for modifying the estate state tax (House Bill 2075 – addressing the Bracken court ruling, which reinstates the estate tax on married couples' assets and does so with a retroactivity clause).
- It modifies the Drug Sentencing Grid.
- Some of the public safety funding related to DUI laws did not get funded because they were not considered a high enough priority.
- About $24.7 million in excise tax distribution was taken away from local governments.
- With the expansion of Medicaid we are relying on funding from the federal government, that is trillions upon trillions of dollars in debt.
- There are also monies for state-funded abortions.
So, it is not a perfect budget, but there were many good pieces to this spending plan, and it represents a true bipartisan compromise. I hope we can address some of the concerns next year.
The capital budget also represented a strong, bipartisan agreement. This budget funds the construction and repair of public buildings, land acquisitions, and also assists local government and nonprofits. The 8th District received funding for the Yakima River Waterfront Park in West Richland, developing the Yakima Rivershore and Trail, WSU Prosser and much more, including $5.4 million for Delta High School. To find out more about 8th District projects, click: http://fiscal.wa.gov/BudgetC.aspx. You can click the drop down box next to “list” and select the 8th Legislative District. Then click “view report” on the right.
The Legislature passed a bipartisan transportation budget during the regular session. It appropriates a total of $8.4 billion for infrastructure projects and operating programs. However, the focus of transportation this session was on the House majority's proposed transportation tax revenue package that would have raised the state gas tax by 10.5 cents by July 2014, in addition to various fees.
I opposed this plan when it was voted out of the House on a mostly party line vote. Fortunately, the gas tax plan died in the Senate. I heard from many of you on this issue. Most were opposed as it impacts our unemployed or underemployed. I believe this tax would hamper our state's economic recovery and the economic recovery of individuals and families. Also our state pays one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times as much for major transportation construction projects than other states. We will be taking a very close look at the reasons behind this discrepancy during the interim. We should not consider new additional transportation funding until we have a better understanding of the cost-drivers and consider some transportation reforms.
As a longtime law enforcement officer the DUI issue was very important to me this session. Other leaders on public safety issues from both caucuses and chambers, and I, along with the governor's office, met numerous times. In the end, we did pass legislation that will save lives, but I truly felt like we could have done more to protect the innocent. I have seen the tragic results of those driving under the influence too many times. I supported the legislation, but have already begun to work on strengthening DUI legislation even more next year.
The legislation we passed this year requires sobriety monitoring for repeat offenders who commit DUI and physical control offenses, requires community custody supervision for felony-level DUI offenders, modifies provisions on negligent driving, and mandatory arrests/booking of repeat offenders. It also changes ignition interlock device (IIDs) requirements, requires IIDs as a condition of release, and provides for consideration of vehicle forfeiture for IID violations.
The bills I have already drafted and introduced for next year include:
- House Bill 2083 – would require all DUI offenders to be arrested, booked and put on a six-hour hold;
- House Bill 2084 – would make it a felony on the fourth DUI conviction, instead of on the fifth DUI conviction, under current law; and
- House Bill 2085 – would eliminate the “10-year look back” for felony DUIs, so the fourth DUI in a lifetime would be a felony DUI, instead of the fourth DUI within 10 years.
Legislation close to home
You may often hear legislators say the best ideas for legislation come from constituents. I agree and have two great examples of that this session. Two bills I prime-sponsored this session as a result of meetings with some constituents were passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
- House Bill 1541 – A parent whose son has been diagnosed with epilepsy informed me that under current state law only a school nurse could administer the nasal spray that helps stop his seizures. The new law will allow any designated, trained person to administer nasal spray medications to students. It is potentially life-saving for her son and others who suffer from epileptic seizures.
- House Bill 1677 – Before we passed this bill, state law made it nearly impossible to purchase multiple adult family care homes at one time, even if you are currently providing excellent care to the elderly or the most vulnerable at this time. This new law will now allow someone who is currently providing quality care for our elderly and most vulnerable to purchase more than one adult family care home at one time, if they have already been providing quality care, to these most special members of our society, for at least one year.
After a long session, I am happy to be back in district. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about what happened in the Legislature this session or need assistance with a government issue please do not hesitate to contact me. As you just read, we may be able to address you issue. My door is always open, and I also enjoy meeting with groups, organizations or speaking to schools. Again, thank you for your trust, and the honor of serving you.