Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Tomorrow marks the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session in Olympia. Last Friday was the deadline for policy bills to be reported from their respective committees. This Thursday is the deadline for fiscal bills to be reported out from their committees. Bills that have not passed from their respective committees by these cutoff dates are likely dead for the session.
Progress on the budget? Not yet!
This far into the session, you would think major progress had been made on crafting a supplemental budget that would close a $1.5 billion shortfall. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Many of us are very frustrated that the majority party has concentrated its time on matters other than the budget and job creation. A large portion of time has been spent on the same-sex marriage issue. That measure, Senate Bill 6239, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this morning. It's expected to be brought to the floor of the House on Wednesday for a vote. I plan to vote against the bill. I'm a strong advocate for traditional marriage and I think there are more important issues we need to be addressing right now. You can read my views on this issue in an advisory I sent last week.
Fund Education First!
Education is supposed to be our first and paramount duty, as directed in the Washington State Constitution, and reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court in its recent ruling of “McCleary, et us., et al v. State of Washington.”
There are a lot of people who talk about the importance of education and its funding. The trouble is, they often use the issue of education and kids to soften up citizens for tax increases. K-12 education takes up nearly 43 percent of the $32 billion operating budget. That means the remaining part of the budget is 57 percent – and that money often gets allocated first. Why do budget writers appropriate the first dollars to other state programs and then use the remaining dollars to fund K-12 education? So they can make the case the state is short of money and cannot adequately fund education as is required in the state constitution.
For example, let's talk about the governor's proposed budget. She wants a half-penny increase in the state sales tax to raise a half-billion dollars she says is needed for education and some other programs. Without the tax increase, the governor says she would shorten the K-12 school year from 180 days to 176 days, and reduce levy equalization by $152 million for school districts in property-poor counties. The governor wants taxpayers to “buy back” those cuts with a tax increase.
I have said all along that we don't need tax increases, especially when the state is expected to take in $2 billion MORE in revenue than the previous budget cycle. That's without tax increases. Instead, we need to set priorities!
Rather than funding education last, we need to FUND EDUCATION FIRST! That means using the first dollars of the state operating budget for K-12 education.
This is legislation I introduced several years ago. Last week, it finally received a hearing in the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee. Under the House Republican “Fund Education First” legislation, House Bill 2533, the Legislature would be required to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. We have also introduced House Bill 2770, our proposed education budget. Our education budget would spend $13.66 billion for K-12 education. That's $580 million more than the governor. It would NOT shorten the school year, and it would fully fund levy equalization. Plus, it would do all of this within existing revenues and without tax increases.
We believe education must get the first funding in the budget – not the last – and should not be used as a way to promote tax increases.
Our proposals have received the support of educators, school employees and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. Unfortunately, the majority party did not allow House Bill 2533 to advance. And they've indicated they will not allow our education budget to move forward either.
Nevertheless, Rep. Gary Alexander, our House Republican budget negotiator, believes it will help to influence writing of the supplemental budget and open the discussion toward funding education as the state's first and highest priority.
For more information about Fund Education First, visit our Web site: https://houserepublicans.wa.gov/current-issues/fund-education-first/
I welcome your comments on this issue.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you.
In your service,