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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With 10 days left in our “first” special session, legislators have been called back to Olympia for possible votes next week. 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. I've highlighted some of the biggest investments for you below.
Another strong economic forecast this week continues to show a steady increase in revenue collections and we anticipate having an upturn of nearly 10 percent. This further emphasizes there is no need for a massive tax increase as proposed by the governor and House majority party. We need to prioritize spending to ensure the state lives within its means and our budget is balanced and sustainable.
While we are optimistic a compromise will be struck in the coming days, I hope the work we do in Olympia next week will embrace the sense of urgency felt by many people back home. We must fulfill our duty and finish our work as soon as possible.
Since returning home earlier this month, I have been busy meeting with constituents and attending community events. Through these opportunities, I am always reminded of how resilient and dedicated members of our community are and how bright our future is. I also rely on these interactions to learn more about the issues affecting our communities and how we can solve them. Please continue to contact me if you would like me to visit your group, school or business. I look forward to spending more time in our district throughout the remainder of the year and hearing directly from you!
Fully funding basic education remains the top priority for legislators
I have heard from many of you about funding basic education in the budget. I can tell you your message is being heard in Olympia. The truth of the matter is, this is going to be a great year for education. We will be making a funding commitment to education the state has not seen in nearly 30 years.
I have received many emails on this issue that have been inaccurate and misleading. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight on where we stand in regards to funding basic education.
Here are some of the facts:
- The Senate budget includes a $2.7 billion increase in K-12 spending over two years – the largest dollar increase in state history.
- The $2.7 billion increase includes:
- $1.3 billion toward McCleary – including K-3 class size reduction ($350 million), all-day kindergarten ($190 million), materials, supplies, and operating costs ($740 million).
- $230 million for K-12 staff salary increases – providing the voter-approved increases required in I-732.
- $210 million in higher pension costs – accounting for longer employee lifespan, including investments for higher enrollment, inflation, bilingual and special education, gifted education program, and increased costs for items such as levy equalization.
- K-12 spending would increase by 17.8 percent – the largest percentage increase in 25 years.
- K-12 funding totals 47 percent of our state budget – a level not seen in 30 years.
- The Senate capital budget includes funding for building 2,100 classrooms to deliver on class-size reduction goals.
- The House budget has similar investment levels, albeit with a huge tax increase, but the final agreement is guaranteed to be a historic investment.
Another wrinkle in the budget debate is cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for teachers, which voter's approved by passing I-732 in 2000. The Washington Education Association (WEA) campaigned to pass I-732 when the state had a huge $1.8 BILLION budget surplus. The WEA said COLAs could be funded within existing revenues and no tax increases would be needed to pay for it. When the recession hit, the surplus turned into a $1.1 BILLION deficit, and the majority party (which happened to be the Democrats) controlling the Legislature and governor's mansion at that time suspended the COLA.
In 2004, the WEA went back to the voters with I-884, a plan to raise the sales tax to pay for the COLA. It failed with 60 percent opposition. I think the voters have been very clear that if we have the money to pay for teacher COLAs without tax increases, they will support it. If we have to raise taxes to pay for it, then they do not. Since we are anticipating more than $3 billion in revenue growth for the 2015-17 biennium, we have enough money to meet the state's funding obligations – including the COLAs – without raising taxes.
Many have written to me concerned about the salaries of teachers. The average salary of a teacher in the Evergreen School District is $61,885 plus insurance and pension benefits valued at around $21,000, bringing their total compensation package to more than $80,000 per year. While one can argue whether this is an appropriate level for a teacher or not, it is substantially higher than the median income of a Clark County resident of $59,341. As I mentioned above, funding for the COLA is included in both budgets. The Senate budget fully funds education without creating new taxes to achieve this goal. In light of the fact we have had such a slow recovery from the Great Recession, raising taxes (as the House Democrat budget proposes to do) on those who are still trying to make ends meet, is not beneficial to anyone.
Since narrowly passing statewide in November, and failing in Clark County by 53 percent, the class-size reduction initiative (I-1351) has also been a source of debate in Olympia. Again, I have received emails with inaccurate information on this issue. Some say the Senate budget is proposing to increase class sizes in grades 4-12. This simply is not the case. Class sizes are reduced in grades K-3 where it has been shown to have the most effect. No one is proposing to increase class sizes in grades 4-12.
I don't believe it was made clear to voters that passing and implementing I-1351 would cost BILLIONS of dollars and require significant tax increases or irresponsible slashing of public services. Therefore, I believe it should be returned to the voters once it has been determined exactly how much its implementation will cost so they can make a decision with all of the facts on the table.
The budget my Republican colleagues and I are working on is a huge step forward in reversing the trend of not meeting our constitutional mandate to fully fund basic education. The common thread between the two budgets is fully funding education. The Legislature is working hard to achieve this, and is on track to accomplish that this year.
Paying tribute to our fallen law enforcement officers
I was honored to speak at the Clark County Law Enforcement Memorial last week at the invitation of Sheriff Chuck Atkins. The Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded to three members of the Clark County Sheriff's Department in recognition of their deaths, which occurred in the line of duty. Sheriff Lester Wood, Deputy Sheriff Willfred E. Rorisen, and Deputy Sheriff Martin S. Sowders each made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the citizens of Clark County. Each officer had a family member present to accept the award, and I am grateful for their service.
The untimely death of anyone is a sad tragedy, but the loss of those who dedicate their lives to the service and protection of others, who fall in the line of duty, hits us all especially hard. Outside the Capitol, there is a memorial to fallen officers with an inscription taken from John 15:13 that always touches me emotionally. It reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” We gathered to pay tribute to three dedicated heroes, honor their memory, and recognize their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their family and loved ones. It is my hope that they are not forgotten.
As a member of the House Public Safety Committee, I am committed to ensuring we provide law enforcement officers with the tools they need to safely protect and serve our communities. I am especially proud of the men and women of law enforcement serving in Clark County. Thank you for all you do to keep us safe.
Congratulations to the class of 2015 – GO COUGS!
On Mother's Day weekend, I attended commencement ceremonies honoring the graduating class of 2015 at Washington State University Vancouver. It was a tremendous opportunity to celebrate their achievements and know they are well prepared to leave their mark on the world. It also highlights how critical it is for us to invest in affordable higher education opportunities for Washington's students. To all those graduating this year, I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors!
Observing Memorial Day
For many, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and is filled with barbeques and time with family and friends. Memorial Day, though, is also an important day of remembrance. As we celebrate our freedom, I encourage you to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. I always look forward to participating in the annual events at Ft. Vancouver and I hope to see some of you there. Wherever you spend the weekend, I hope it is safe and relaxing.
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