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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. As I have mentioned in previous updates, there is an almost 9 percent increase in revenue, 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 I am committed to adjourning on time with a balanced budget that does not raise your taxes.
In this update, I will share my thoughts on the budget and highlight some of the concerns I have with the House Democrats' spending plan. Even with historic revenue collections, the House majority offered a budget that does not balance without raising taxes on hard-working Washingtonians. I do not believe this is the right path for Washington, and will continue to call for a budget that prioritizes government spending and respects the will of taxpayers across the state.
As we prepare to take on these issues in the closing weeks of session, I am happy to offer you another opportunity to share your thoughts with me. I, along with Rep. Paul Harris, will be hosting a telephone town hall tomorrow. You can find more information on this community conversation below.
If you are not able to join the call, you can contact my office directly. I always welcome your comments, concerns, and questions. I believe your voice matters most in the legislative process, and I look forward to your continued input on the issues.
Join my telephone town hall April 1:
Your opinion has been, and will continue to be, the most important consideration for me to ensure I vote in ways that are reflective of the values of the 17th District. This is why I am hosting an hour-long telephone town hall on Wednesday, April 1, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. To take part in the call, just dial 360-588-5068. The phone line will open shortly before the call begins. To ask me questions directly during the call, just press star (*) on your telephone keypad.
Please take a moment to view my latest video update. In this video I discuss the first half of session, the impending budget debate, and the cost of going into an unnecessary special session.
2015-17 budget proposal:
Budget writers for the majority party in the House released their 2015-17 budget last Friday. I spent the weekend reviewing the proposal and while I am pleased this budget addressed priorities such as mental health services and public safety, and did not include Gov. Inslee's carbon tax plan, I have several concerns.
The proposed 2015-17 operating budget spends about $39 billion, representing an increase of 15 percent over the current 2013-15 budget. Spending is at record highs and projections suggest it will increase to nearly $43 billion by 2017-19. In fact, state spending has nearly doubled over the past 15 years. With a 9 percent increase in revenue collections, it is clear Olympia does not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. It's time for government to budget based on what taxpayers are realistically able to provide, not simply spend as it wants.
Increasing taxes should be a last resort, especially given the growth in revenue collections for this budget cycle. But this plan includes $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes. I have heard from many folks back home that government needs to prioritize spending and live within its means, just like families all across the state. Yet, the plan put forward does not respect taxpayers, especially in Clark County, and relies on tax increases that will affect Washington's ability to compete economically.
One of the tax increases proposed is the elimination of the sales tax exemption for non-residents shopping in Washington. Ending this exemption is equivalent to hanging a “closed for business” sign on the border. I will work to ensure Clark County businesses remain competitive, and that this border penalty is not included in the final budget.
House Democrats also proposed nine other tax increases which they say are necessary to fund basic education under the McCleary decision. Yet, their proposals, including a tax on capital gains, bottled water, online sales, and a variety of increases to the business and occupation tax, fail to meet an important requirement of McCleary. The Supreme Court ruled basic education must be funded using “regular and dependable sources of revenue.” Taxes can and have been repealed by Washington voters in the past. In fact, Washington voters repealed the bottled water tax with a 60 percent majority the last time Democrats offered it as a solution. Repeating the same thing and expecting a different result is not “regular and dependable,” it is insanity.
Many around the state, and the 17th District, will be watching this budget process and wondering how the Legislature will address the McCleary decision and K-12 education funding. Our constitutional mandate is clear: funding basic education is our paramount duty. I believe the best way to address this is by making basic education the top line item in our budget. Because no revenue is more regular and dependable than existing revenue, I believe we should fund education first. With $3 billion in additional revenue through growth, we have the means to meet this important obligation without raising taxes. It appears, however, the House majority lacks the political will to prioritize education and instead would rather focus on picking winners and losers in Washington by relying on increased taxes to solve this problem. This is not a solution I support.
Hearings on the budget began Monday in the House Appropriations Committee, with votes expected later this week. With your help, I believe we can defeat these unnecessary tax increases, prioritize spending, and meet our funding obligations. I am confident we can pass a balanced, responsible, and sustainable budget on time and avoid a costly, and unnecessary, special session.
As the budget moves through the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me with your concerns, questions, and comments. This budget will be the largest in state history, and you should have a say in the fiscal future of our state government. I look forward to hearing from you on this important issue.
Yours in service,
418 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7994 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000