Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After a 60-day session and a 20-day special session, activities in Olympia have come to a close and I'm back home in Granger. While I'm disappointed it took a special session to come to agreement on the 2016 supplemental budget, I am pleased that this budget was a true supplemental budget; something we've not seen in recent years.
All-in-all, I view this session as a success. We were able to save our state's voter-approved public charter schools, create a framework for addressing our basic education obligations, and passed the Washington Cybercrime Act. We also passed a pilot project to allow prescribed burning which, along with proper forest management and thinning, can help prevent the massive wildfires we've seen the last two years.
There were also fewer bills introduced and heard in committee this year, which isn't always a bad thing. I attribute this to the closely divided government we have in our state. With the state House of Representatives controlled by a slim Democrat majority of 50-48 and the Senate controlled by Republicans 25-23 (with one Democrat caucusing with the Republicans), we have 73 Republicans, 73 Democrats, and one kind of in the middle. These close numbers seem to keep lawmakers more focused on the truly relevant issues.
I want to thank those of you who contacted my office throughout session with your comments, questions and concerns. Hearing from you makes my job much easier and helps me educate some of my West-side colleagues on the issues and challenges we face here in central Washington.
I hope you find this session review informative and helpful. You can click here to view a list of dead/alive bills.
2016 supplemental budget
Earlier this year, the governor introduced his supplemental budget which included tax increases and significant new programs and policies. The majority party in the House followed with a similar proposal to increase taxes and grow the size of government and – like the governor – wanted to tap the state's rainy day fund for ongoing expenses.
But this is a supplemental budget year; a time to make small adjustments to the two-year spending plan legislators passed less than 10 months ago. This is a principle that goes back decades and in the past has helped keep state budget growth in check (the picture at right is from a handout back in 1998). In addition, using one-time money from the state's rainy day fund for ongoing expenses is a quick path to the unsustainable roller coaster budgeting from years past.
In the end, the bipartisan budget that passed the Legislature added about $191 million to the approximately $38.2 billion biennial budget. It included targeted investments in K-12 education and improvements to our mental health system. The rainy day fund was tapped to pay for last year's wildfires – the exact reason we have the fund in the first place: to pay for unexpected, one-time emergencies like landslides, wildfires and earthquakes.
Six times in the last 22 years voters have supported a two-thirds legislative vote before raising taxes. The public wants elected officials to make a strong case if tax increases are needed; strong enough to convince two-thirds of each legislative body. This year, I cosponsored a constitutional amendment (House Joint Resolution 4215) to finally put this issue to rest by including it in our state constitution. While it didn't pass the Legislature, I continue to believe this taxpayer protection should be enacted and will work towards that goal in the future.
Holding government accountable
Government, at all levels, needs to be held accountable. This session, the state Senate exercised its constitutional oversight authority by not confirming Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. There were just too many missteps and unanswered questions within WSDOT to allow the status quo to continue.
In addition, the head of the Department of Corrections, Secretary Dan Pacholke, resigned as a result of his agency's early release of 3,200 inmates, resulting in the deaths of two innocent people. We have a responsibility to hold state agencies accountable as members of the legislative branch.
Gov. Inslee's historic veto – 27 bills vetoed; 27 veto overrides
During the last week of the session, the governor threatened to veto bills passed by the Legislature unless a budget agreement was on hi desk by the March 10 deadline. When an agreement was not reached, he vetoed 27 bills that had broad bipartisan support. The governor's actions were unnecessary and did nothing to help budget negotiations. Both parties expressed frustration with this move. He vetoed legislation that would have:
•removed obstacles for higher education students with disabilities;
•restructured the state Apple Commission to better reflect the changing dynamics of the industry;
•promoted economic development;
•created jobs by authorizing the growing of industrial hemp;
•saved a committee to address the impacts of ocean acidification;
•reauthorized the Invasive Species Council account;
•reduced the costs of prescription drugs; and
•increased the availability of affordable housing.
In the end, on the last day of the special session, the House and Senate voted to override his vetoes – on each and every bill. It was a historic event as only a handful of vetoes have ever been overridden.
Because this is an election year, this will be my last e-mail update to you. However, I'm always free to respond to individual requests, questions or contacts. If you need a speaker for your community, civic or church group, please feel free to contact me as I'm happy to help keep you informed about your state government.
Thank for the privilege and honor of serving you in the state House of Representatives.