Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the first special session ending this week, legislators have been called back to Olympia to vote on bills and receive updates on budget negotiations. Negotiators from the House, Senate and governor's office have been meeting regularly to discuss the details of a final budget. Both budget proposals on the table make historic investments in basic and higher education, and address other critical funding priorities. At this time, the major debate is whether to pay for these priorities using existing revenue or by increasing taxes.
While I remain hopeful an agreement can be negotiated soon, I especially hope the work we do in Olympia this week will embrace the urgency felt by many people back home. We must fulfill our duty and finish our work as soon as possible.
Last week, we received another positive economic revenue forecast. The latest forecast again shows there is no need for the tax increases being proposed by the governor and House majority party. The House majority party, however, continues to insist upon $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes, including the creation of a capital gains income tax and a significant increase in B&O taxes on 164,000 small businesses. I don't believe this is the right direction for our state, rather we should prioritize spending and live within our means.
I have heard from many of you regarding education funding in the 2015-17 budget. I can tell you your voice has been heard. While we don't yet have the final figures, the budgets proposed by the House and Senate increase K-12 education funding by nearly 18 percent. This is a historic investment in basic education.
With this substantial investment, we continue to address the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary decision. In fact, an increase of $1.3 billion has been proposed to address McCleary. This includes increased funding for K-3 class size reduction ($350 million), all-day kindergarten ($190 million), and maintenance, supplies, and operating costs ($740 million). The Senate Capital Budget also includes funding to build 2,100 new classrooms in the state to meet class-size reduction needs.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature are concerned about class sizes and how to implement I-1351 which was passed by a narrow majority last year. Many voted on this initiative without knowing the true cost of implementation. It is clear this initiative, while well intentioned, is a budget buster with a price tag between $4-5 billion. Given the high cost, it would require massive tax increases to fully fund it.
I have also heard from a number of you on the important issue of teacher COLAs. I am happy to report both budget proposals include teacher COLAs. I have spent many years working in schools and greatly value the contribution teachers make on a daily basis to educating our students and strengthening our communities.
Some have suggested, however, that legislators have voted to give themselves a pay raise while holding out on teachers. Please let me be very clear on this subject, your elected officials in the Legislature as well as judges and the governor do not set their own salary and we have not asked for an increase. Rather, the salary is set by the independent Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. The Commission was established in 1986 by a vote of the people.
It is my sincere hope teachers recognize the progress we are making and they will remain in their classrooms through the remainder of the school year. The one day walkouts affect our student's education the most and their parents, some of whom have to scramble for childcare during the strike-affected days. I encourage teachers to contact me directly via phone, email or traditional mail. I am always available to listen to your concerns and hope you will stay in the classroom for the sake of the students and working families.
As the special session and budget negotiations continue, I hope you take time to share your questions, comments and concerns with me. I will continue to keep your comments in mind as we move closer to adopting the 2015-17 budget and adjourning for the year.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you! May God richly bless you! Have a great Washington day!