Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2013 sessions adjourned Saturday, June 29. It was the fifth longest session in our state's history at 153 days. It is good to be back in the Yakima Valley. Though I was as frustrated as you at the amount of time it took, the final budget agreement was the best one given the circumstances. Most tax increase proposals did not move forward – much to the relief of small businesses and hard-working families across our state. A proposed gas tax increase did not pass the Legislature due to lack of public support. However, several important projects in the Yakima area will move forward – including the Yakima Basin integrated plan. Education was rightly prioritized in the budget, too. In this issue, read about:
- why I voted for the operating budget
- capital budget projects in the 15th District
- failure of the gas tax increase
Now that I'm back home, I hope to see you at an event or just around town. Please feel free to contact my office to arrange a meeting with you or your community group, or to share your ideas, questions or suggestions. I appreciate hearing what you have to say.
It's an honor to serve you.
The other day, myself and Rep. Matt Manweller spoke at a Yakima Chamber of Commerce meeting. We shared a review of the long sessions, and why we supported the operating budget. As soon as we mentioned that tuition will not increase under the adopted budget, people in the crowd cheered and clapped! Parents and students have been carrying a greater burden in the cost of higher education – see the chart at right. I hope in future years we can reverse this trend. Higher education provides a major return on investment to the state and the people.
Other reasons I supported the operating budget:
- It spends less than the state is expected to bring in.
- It does not include any of the proposed tax increases on satellite TV, beer, bottled water, out-of-town shoppers or small businesses.
- It increases education funding as required by the state Supreme Court in the recent McCleary case (see more below).
- It leaves $630 million in reserves so the Legislature can make needed adjustments to spending in next year's supplemental budget.
- There were no budget gimmicks, such as the proposal to shift school apportionment payments.
This budget looks very similar to proposals House Republicans have introduced in the past – and I'm pleased our leadership team was part of negotiations. This gave me a better understanding of the budget so I could be more educated to vote on your behalf.
One of the greatest achievements in the budget is that it provides more than $1 billion in new funding to education – targeted toward student outcomes. This includes:
- $374 million for materials, supplies and operating costs that have recently been pushed to local levies;
- $132 million for pupil transportation – something that will dramatically assist our rural districts who must travel longer distances to bring students to school;
- $90 million to phase in all-day kindergarten, starting with at-risk and poorer communities;
- $104 million to reduce class sizes in early elementary classes where we know it makes the greatest difference in student learning;
- $19 million for bilingual education to help students learn English as a second language; and
- $15 million for teacher and principal evaluations and training.
Many of the benefits of this targeted funding may not be seen for years, but children and their futures are worth the investment.
The capital budget is often called the “bricks and mortar” budget for the state, as it funds the physical construction and maintenance of prisons, schools, and hospitals, as well as helping communities with loans for critical infrastructure upgrades.
Moving forward with the Yakima Basin integrated plan was dependent upon funding being included in the capital budget. I'm pleased that not only did the policy bill pass in the final days of the session, but also $136 million was included to move forward with the different components of the plan. It took many years for our communities to get to this point, and I'm proud of the work of irrigation districts, cities, counties, agencies and tribes to come together on a solution to move our area forward.
Also included for the 15th District in the final capital budget, which I voted for, was:
- $19 million for the Palmer Martin Building at Yakima Valley Community College;
- $8.9 million for farmworker housing in Granger, Sunnyside and Toppenish;
- $800,000 for the Mabton High School historic renovation;
- $136,000 for the Northwest Medical School;
- $65,000 for the Jerry Taylor Memorial Plaza for Veterans; and
- $500,000 for the McAllister Air Museum.
These are all important projects for our area and will last for generations to come.
Earlier this year, a group of House Democrats introduced a transportation revenue package, which included many fee increases and a 10.5 cent gas tax increase over 13 months. A public opinion poll in March revealed the public was not willing to pay more at the pump for transportation improvements – 72 percent opposed a gas tax. Questions were also raised about the use of current transportation dollars after several costly mistakes were made in design and construction on some high-profile projects in Western Washington. I joined my House Republican colleagues in supporting a package of bills to reform our transportation system before sending more taxpayer dollars to new or expanded projects. Those bills include:
- House Bill 1985 would exempt future state transportation projects from state and local sales and use tax. This bill did not move forward.
- House Bill 1986 would require WSDOT to report to the Legislature on engineering errors and mistakes that exceed $500,000. The report would need to explain how it happened, the department of the responsible employee(s), what corrective action was taken, and what actions the transportation secretary recommends to avoid similar errors in the future. This passed the House 82-3 (I voted yes), but did not make it through the Senate.
- House Bill 1984 would limit WSDOT's tort liability based on the amount of the department's actual fault, instead of allowing plaintiffs to recover the entire judgment from the deeper pockets of the state. This bill did not move forward.
In the end, the entire transportation revenue package failed to pass the Legislature. There is word proponents, including Governor Inslee, may try again next year to get a revenue package for transportation.