Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After spending nearly six months in session, the Legislature has finally finished its work. A lot of progress was made this year on important issues such as education, mental health services and public safety. The House and the Senate reached agreement over a bill suspending Initiative 1351, the class reduction initiative, which temporarily created a $2 billion budget gap. I am thankful partisanship was ultimately put aside and the Legislature adjourned. You can read more about these issues in the in this recent editorial from The Seattle Times.
Throughout the legislative session, I said we must prioritize spending and make sure state government is operating efficiently. The 2015-17 operating budget spends $38.2 billion, an increase of more than 12 percent over the 2013-15 budget. To reach this spending level, we were asked to suspend the state spending limit. Even though there were some very positive aspects of the operating budget, I could not vote in favor of suspending this important budget check. We must keep working to ensure we strengthen Washington's economic footing by practicing more fiscal restraint and better live within our means.
Additionally, this budget taps into the Public Works Trust Fund and relies on other account transfers to balance. It also leaves a less than robust ending balance for the 2017-19 biennium, providing fewer funds to respond to unforeseen events and emergencies. With a $3.2 billion increase in revenue collections for this budget cycle, I was hoping to see a stronger emphasis on fiscal restraint as the economy slowly recovers from what has been called the Great Recession.
Positive aspects of this 2015-17 operating budget include an increased investment of $1.3 billion toward basic education. The budget also increases our investment in mental health services, which allows us to better serve this vulnerable population. We were also able to avoid many of the major tax increases proposed by the governor earlier this year, including a capital gains income tax and a carbon emissions tax. Both would have a detrimental impact on our economy.
In the early morning hours of July 1, the House voted to increase the state gas tax by nearly 12 cents per gallon. This was a difficult issue to consider, with passionate debate on both sides. On a telephone town hall I hosted earlier this year, 85 percent of respondents opposed the gas-tax increase proposal. I respect my well-intentioned colleagues who supported this package and agree we need to improve our transportation infrastructure.
But, I voted against this tax increase because there were not enough protections for you, the tax payer, from the wasteful spending practices of the past. I supported an amendment to put this question on the ballot as a referendum because I believe YOU should have the final say in raising YOUR taxes. Disappointingly, this amendment failed. Further, the reforms were weakened throughout the negotiations and do not go far enough in improving efficiency and accountability in how your transportation tax dollars are spent.
I sincerely hope we can build on some of the positive outcomes and come back next year focused on finding areas of state government that can be improved and streamlined so the citizens of our great state can get a better return on their tax dollars.
Finally, I want to thank you for the honor to be one of your voices in Olympia. I am greatly honored by this opportunity to serve you. As we celebrated Independence Day, I was once again reminded how blessed we are to live in the freest nation in world. I ask that you keep the men and women of our armed forces in your prayers, now and always, as they sacrifice so much to protect and defend our liberty.
With the legislative session finally over, please remember I'm your state representative year-round. I'm here to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government on any issue. Please always feel free to contact my office to schedule a meeting or if you would like me to attend or speak at an event. My office number is (360) 786-7882.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you! May God richly bless you! Have a great Washington day!