Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now on day 16 of the 30-day special session and, unfortunately, there are still no agreements on the operating and capital budgets. Negotiations, to date, have primarily included budget and legislative leaders – including the governor's office. However, state lawmakers will be back in Olympia on Thursday and will hopefully begin to move parts of the operating budget forward.
Special session goals
The special session should be about fiscally-responsible state budgets, job growth and holding the line on new tax increases. Now is not the time to revive failed, controversial bills that divide the Legislature. I am hoping these goals are met in the next two weeks.
Should taxes be raised?
The special session is essentially about one question: Should the operating budget include around $1 billion in tax increases? The operating budget could be balanced with existing revenue, as has been shown with the Senate operating budget. An important number to remember in the budget debate is $2 billion. The state is on track to collect $2 billion more revenue in the 2013-15 budget cycle compared to the current two-year cycle that ends on June 30. And that number will grow if our economy improves.
Service businesses targeted
I voted “no” when House Bill 2038 came before me during the regular legislative session, because it would raise taxes by $879 million on our fragile economy by permanently extending the B&O surtax on service businesses.
What is a service business? It's a huge category of mostly Main Street employers and individuals. For example: accountants, architects, assisted living facilities, auto dealers, builders, child day care facilities, dentists, doctors, employment services, home health care services, legal services, nannies, newspaper publishers, nursing care facilities, personal care services, Realtors, and many more. I asked for a complete list of businesses that would be impacted, but it was not readily available. Through research, I found that thousands of people would be adversely impacted. You can find the list here.
My objection to these tax increases isn't just about employers – it's about their employees and customers. It's also about people who are unemployed, underemployed or simply cannot afford to send any more money to Olympia. While our state's unemployment rate is trending down, a lot of those new jobs are in King County. We need to be thinking about the whole state – not just the view from the Space Needle.
A question in a recent statewide poll asked, “What do you think is the most important thing that should be done to balance the state budget: reduce spending even if some crucial programs are cut, or increase taxes, even if it is hard for middle-class families?”
The poll results seem to show that a strong majority of Washingtonians agree with House Republicans and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus on the issue of tax increases. In fact, 61 percent of Washingtonians answered that their preference was to “reduce spending, even if some crucial programs are cut.” To learn more, click here.
Comparing budget proposals
To say that the special session boils down to the question of raising taxes is not meant to oversimplify the complex policy decisions confronting state lawmakers. These decisions will be hard, no matter what, but would be easier if the Legislature would take tax increases off the table and decide on the size of the state spending box. For a comparison of the three operating budget proposals – from the governor, House and Senate – click here. If you would like to see a detailed comparison of the House and Senate operating budgets that passed, click here.
I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River
When I first saw images of the collapsed section of the I-5 bridge in the Skagit River, like you, I was worried. My initial concern was for potential victims. I'm grateful that no one was seriously injured and for the collective response of everyone involved.
With everyone safe, we now need to find out exactly what happened. It's important that we give the experts time to investigate. The results of the investigation will ultimately guide the reforms and solutions we consider moving forward. Our state must do all it can to prevent this situation from happening again in the future.
We know this roadway is the lifeline for our homes, schools and local businesses. It's also a vital thoroughfare for the flow of goods and services throughout the Pacific Northwest. Our state needs a temporary solution that will provide safe and reliable routes for those who depend on this section of I-5. And, eventually, we will need a long-term solution that will serve our region for years to come.
To date, this situation has brought out the best in our communities. Now, it needs to bring out the best in our local, state and federal governments. This includes learning how to build safe projects in a more streamlined process. There are already solutions on the table for this goal. For example, House Bill 1236. This legislation would require state agencies to make permit decisions in 90 days or the permit is granted. Or, House Bill 1978 which would streamline the project permitting process. This measure actually passed in the House this year, but died in the Senate. Both bills would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays to transportation projects.
The bottom line is we need to address the high costs and delays associated with transportation projects in our state. This process begins with regulation-cutting concepts for existing and new infrastructure.
My door is always open. Please contact me if I can ever be of assistance or if you have any questions.
In closing, I hope you had a great Memorial Day. I'd like to thank all of the men and women of our Armed Forces – past and present. I appreciate your service to our country.
In your service,