Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Finally, the sound state lawmakers had been waiting for – the sound of the last gavel dropping on Saturday, June 29, signaling the end of the second special session (pictured right). It's been a long six months, 153 days to be exact, which is the longest legislative session that I've ever experienced. While no one can defend the extra costs to taxpayers, the special sessions did produce an operating budget, a capital budget and a group of meaningful reforms that represent bipartisan public policy that is good for our state. Below is a snapshot of the major outcomes in the Legislature the last few weeks. As always, I welcome your feedback.
State lawmakers entered the legislative session knowing they would have $2 billion more in revenue for the 2013-15 budget cycle compared to the current one (2011-13). Yet, this didn't stop a call for more than $1.3 billion in tax increases – including a permanent extension of the business and occupation surtax on service businesses, which would have adversely impacted thousands of people and employers. Fortunately, this proposal – House Bill 2038 – died. The only tax increases included in the operating budget specifically address litigation involving our state's estate tax and telecommunications laws. I voted against both of these measures.
In the end, the winners in the operating budget were students, including K-12 education and those in our state universities, and taxpayers. With it being signed into law Sunday, all talk of a state government shutdown has ended. This rhetoric got a little out of hand, which impacted dedicated state employees and people who rely on state programs. This is unfortunate. I voted in favor of the operating budget, but do have some concerns with it. You can find my House floor speech from Friday here.
Here are some details on the operating budget:
- Spends: $33.49 billion.
- Ending-fund balance: $630.9 million.
- New spending for K-12 education (based on state Supreme Court's McCleary decision): $1 billion.
- Freezes higher education tuition in our public universities.
- Protects the safety nets for our most vulnerable populations.
The capital budget is one of three state budgets – along with the operating and transportation budgets. It provides funding for the construction and repair of public buildings and other long-term investments, such as land acquisitions and transfers. The capital budget also considers state money that is either provided or lent to local governments or nonprofit organizations.
The capital budget was the last bill to pass on Saturday and I voted for it. It represent $3.61 billion in total spending, including $780 million for education-related projects, and issues $1.92 billion in bonds. I'm happy to report new investments will be made at the Monroe Correctional Complex – including improvements to the various video systems. We all know how important this is following the tragedy involving Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in 2011.
Transportation revenue package | 10.5-cent state gas tax increase
In my last e-mail update, I talked about the House Democrats' transportation revenue package – House Bills 1954, 1955 and 1956. The plan would raise the state gas tax by 10.5 cents (6 cents in August of this year and 4.5 cents in July 2014), in addition to various fees, to generate nearly $10 billion for transportation projects around the state. This package passed the House, where I voted against it, and later died in the Senate. The poll results from my last e-mail update showed that 74 percent of you also opposed a 10.5-cent increase in the state gas tax. This issue will be front and center in 2014.
I understand our state has maintenance and infrastructure needs, however, this is not the right package. We also need more accountability and reforms in our transportation system before we put more money into it. I have also heard from many struggling families and employers who simply cannot afford more at the pump right now. Please keep in mind the Legislature already passed a $8.8 million 2013-15 transportation budget earlier this year — $5.2 billion for capital projects and $3.6 billion for operating programs. The new transportation revenue package would be on top of the transportation budget.
My new leadership role
As you may know, I was elected leader of the Washington House Republicans on April 27. It is not a position that was on my bucket list, but sometimes things in life are more about timing than planning. When 42 of my Republican state representatives came to me and said they trusted me, I wanted to be there for them.
After taking the leadership position, I soon found myself in the role of facilitator between House Democrats, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus and the governor's office. It was an interesting experience and one I learned a lot from. I always come to the negotiating table with a set of principles and the best interests of my communities in mind, but I am also pragmatic. I saw a clear need to bring state lawmakers together to discuss things we agreed on – and what we disagreed on. It was not always easy, but it was always constructive. My office became a neutral venue for open discussions and consensus from all sides. Some people even started to refer to my office as Switzerland – sans the view of the Alps, of course. It was an honor to play this role and be central to solutions for our state. Here is how one reporter from Spokane described it:
“Negotiations over the $33.6 billion operating budget reportedly improved after House Republicans – who are the Legislature's enduring minority, sort of like the statehouse version of the Chicago Cubs – got involved. House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen was described by several as an honest broker in the offers that went back and forth, and Rep. Gary Alexander, their longtime budget maven, was good with details.”
I also appreciate House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan's (pictured right) remarks on the House floor Friday where he acknowledged that I helped to pull things back together when it appeared they were falling apart, and that I helped to move the process forward.
Staying in touch
While the legislative sessions are over for the year, please remember I am your full-time state representative year round. My door is always open. Please contact me if I can ever be of assistance. My contact information is below.
In your service,