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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Are we done yet? I'm sorry to say, we aren't. I hoped to tell you the Legislature was finished for the year! We worked long and hard to try to finish up last week, and were at least able to pass the 2015-17 operating budget with overwhelming, bipartisan support, ensuring state government remained open for business and critical services continued uninterrupted. We nearly crossed the finish line, but at about 3 o'clock in the morning, all things came to a screeching halt thanks to partisan politics.
Senate Democrats reneged on an agreement they made with House Democrats and Senate Republicans to pass a Democrat-sponsored bill to suspend Initiative 1351 as the Legislature determines the feasibility of its implementation. Their decision to hold this bill hostage blew a $2 billion hole in the operating budget. This is simply unacceptable. It is disappointing Senate Democrats would jeopardize months of negotiations and historic investments in education by playing middle-of-the-night politics. The people of Washington deserve better. Senate Democrats need to do what is in the best interest of the people and follow through on their commitment. You can read more about this unfortunate display of partisanship in a recent editorial from The Columbian.
Now, on to the good news. Even though I am disappointed it took nearly six months to reach an agreement, ultimately we passed a 2015-117 operating budget that benefits people in every part of the state, including those in the 17th District. I supported the budget because it makes historic investments in basic education, reduces college tuition for the first time in state history, funds teacher and state employee COLAs, and makes important investments in mental health services – all without raising taxes.
In my first email update of the 2015 session, I said we would have the money to fund our constitutional obligations without new taxes if we showed the political will to prioritize spending. Today, I am here to tell you we did just that. We stood up to special interests demanding taxes on capital gains income, bottled water, and carbon emissions. We stood up to those who wanted to raise B&O taxes on small businesses, and wanted to fundamentally change the non-resident sales tax exemption that keeps many Clark County businesses competitive. Relying on historic revenue collections totaling more than $3.2 billion, we passed a balanced, sustainable and responsible budget that protects middle-class families, students, and small businesses.
Here are a few highlights of the 2015-17 operating budget:
- Invests $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education and meets the state's constitutional obligations
- $350 million to reduce K-3 class size, $180 million to expand full-day kindergarten, $740 million for materials, supplies, and operating costs
- Fully funds the I-732 teacher COLA at maintenance level ($232 million for 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent) and provides an additional one-time COLA ($153 million for 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent) to provide an overall K-12 COLA of 3 percent and 1.8 percent
- Reduces tuition by 15 percent at research institutions such as WSU and UW, 20 percent at regional universities, and 5 percent at community and technical colleges (state need grant awards to private institutions are unaffected)
- No capital gains income tax, no carbon tax, and no change to the non-resident sales tax exemption
Transportation was a major issue throughout session, and I am disappointed the Legislature voted to increase the state gas tax by nearly 12 cents per gallon. I was a resounding NO! Earlier this year, I asked if you supported this gas-tax increase, and nearly 70 percent of you said no. Not surprisingly, the same amount responded they do not trust WSDOT to effectively and efficiently invest tax dollars. This transportation package offered us a major tax increase and severely watered-down reforms. I have said all along I would only support a tax increase as a last resort and only after major reforms had been enacted. I sided with you by voting no, and will continue to work toward improved accountability and efficiency at WSDOT before asking you to pay more at the pump.
Finally, I hope you all had a glorious Independence Day! It is one of my favorite holidays. It was also a good day to be reminded yet again of the privilege it is to serve you in the Legislature. Though there are disagreements on how to solve the problems we face in our state and nation, we are blessed to live in a country that values the freedom to vigorously debate the solutions. It is my sincere hope that we can build on the work we have done over the past six months, and embrace the spirit of compromise our founding fathers did 239 years ago. I hope you had a safe and relaxing holiday!
Please continue to keep in touch with me throughout the remainder of the year. I am excited to get back home and spend time working in our community. I look forward to seeing you around town soon!
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