Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's hard to believe we have just a few weeks left in the 2015 regular session. Yet, much work remains to be done, including passing the 2015-17 operating budget, which we will begin to debate next week. As I have mentioned in previous updates, we have an approximately 9 percent increase in revenue this budget cycle. This is the highest collection in our state's history, meaning we can – and should – pass a balanced budget by April 26. Special sessions are costly and unnecessary and it will be my goal to adjourn on time with a balanced budget that does not raise taxes.
Recently, the Senate passed a transportation package that included both a gas-tax increase and reforms. This $15 billion transportation package would phase-in a gas-tax increase of $0.117 per gallon over the next few years. Included in the Senate package are eight reform bills to improve accountability at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and help ensure our tax dollars are spent efficiently. This package is currently being debated in the House Transportation Committee.
Like many of you I have heard from, I remain skeptical the current transportation revenue package contains enough meaningful reforms to sufficiently improve accountability and responsible spending of our transportation system dollars. As the package moves through the process, it will undoubtedly change significantly, and the much-needed reforms may not be as effective as they need to be. Without substantial reform, we are simply pouring more tax dollars into a broken system. That's why I, and many fellow Republicans, say we must “fix it, before we fund it.”
I do agree we need to improve and support our state transportation system. We must provide for the maintenance and preservation of our existing roads. We must also fund transportation projects that will reduce congestion, improve public safety, and help enable economic development and vitality. This will help create new jobs as well as increase growth and prosperity. All the while automatically creating much needed revenue growth through accelerated production potential. We can do this by enacting reforms, examples of which include streamlining the permitting process and requiring projects be based on freight mobility and practical design. These reforms need to be included if we are to have a truly comprehensive transportation package that reflects the needs of the entire state, not just the greater Seattle area.
All across the state, folks have been weighing in on this issue. Many of my colleagues report the majority of the people they hear from OPPOSE increasing the gas tax. Some support it, but only if the reforms are enacted. On a recent telephone town hall I hosted with Rep. Larry Haler and Sen. Sharon Brown, 85 percent of participants opposed the increase, with only 15 percent in support.
I am committed to keeping an open mind while reviewing the transportation package as it moves through the legislative process, and will keep all of the comments you have shared with me in mind. Your voice is extremely important to me as we work through this process.
I have also heard from many of you regarding Senate Bill 5748. This legislation is aimed at restoring Washington's No Child Left Behind waiver by directly linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. It is supposed to restore $40 million in federal funding for Washington schools. These funds were controlled by local school districts and are typically used for customized programs for impoverished and/or at-risk students. Without the waiver, control of these funds will return to the federal government.
This bill requires student test results, from federally mandated statewide student assessments, be used as one of the many measures of student growth when conducting teacher and principal performance evaluations. It also requires the method used in the evaluations be subject to collective bargaining agreements. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), along with a steering committee, would have to determine if the assessments meet professionally accepted standards for being a valid and reliable tool for measuring student growth. They would also need to establish that using the assessments as a measurement of student growth will not undermine the existing evaluation system before its implementation.
As with the transportation package, there are good reasons to both support and oppose this legislation, and I do have concerns. I believe schools operate best with more local control, and we need to ensure we are evaluating our teachers fairly and equitably. This bill is scheduled to receive a public hearing later this month, and may or may not, pass out of committee before the next policy cutoff.
Thank you again for this honored opportunity to serve you! May God richly bless you! Have a great Washington day!