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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy Leap Year Day! Eleven days remain in our scheduled 60-day legislative session. Here's a quick update for you.
The fiscal cutoff
Days, nights and weekends all blended together as lawmakers raced to the 2016 session's fiscal cutoff today, Feb. 29. This is the last day opposite-house bills can be considered in their respective committees. After today, our time will be devoted exclusively to passing opposite house bills and then ironing out differences on legislation that has already passed both houses as we drive toward the session's scheduled last day of business on March 10.
Last week was budget week in the Legislature. Both the House and Senate rolled out their respective supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets. In the House, Democrats have proposed $119.5 million in new tax increases for the remainder of the budget cycle, which ends July 2017.
Supplemental operating budget
This House Democratic-proposed supplemental operating budget passed off the House floor Thursday on a narrow 50-47 vote — with one Democrat excused from voting. Our concerns with this proposal include new tax increases, an overreliance on the Budget Stabilization Account and the use of an accounting gimmick to balance the four-year outlook. We offered 35 amendments during the debate, including Amendment 839, which would have prohibited the Human Rights Commission from spending money enforcing the gender-neutral bathroom rules at schools. Only nine of our amendments were accepted.
The good news is the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has proposed a more balanced, fiscally responsible alternative. It does not rely on new tax increases and does not raid the Budget Stabilization Account. You can find an overview here.
Also, if you are concerned about the new gender-neutral bathroom/locker room rules by the state Human Rights Commission, I would love to hear from you. My contact information is at the end of this e-newsletter.
Supplemental transportation budget falls short for I-405 commuters
The supplemental transportation budget also passed off the House floor Thursday, but with a more bipartisan 84-13 vote. A summary can be found here.
There are a lot of things to like about this budget, including funding for: the recruitment, retention and increased compensation for the Washington State Patrol; structurally deficient bridges; and Republican-sponsored bills.
There are also some problems with this plan, including funding for a controversial road user charge pilot program. House Republicans offered Amendment 828 to eliminate funding for this pilot program, which would open the door for a vehicle miles traveled tax. However, the amendment was rejected.
The House supplemental transportation budget also includes funding for the I-405 changes proposed by the governor recently. Unfortunately, the governor's plan doesn't address the root problem for I-405: congestion during peak hours. Some of his changes could take as long as three years to implement. This is not enough for commuters who have suffered since September with WSDOT's disastrous toll-lane program.
Rep. Mark Harmsworth introduced two amendments on the House floor to address the ongoing problems on I-405, but unfortunately they were scoped. This means no votes were allowed on these measures.
House supplemental capital budget
The bipartisan House supplemental capital budget was unveiled at a news conference last Wednesday. Also known as the construction budget, state representatives laid out plans to build K-3 classrooms, improve our state's mental health system, help homeless youth, and fund the Public Works Trust Fund. You can learn more in this news release. This budget is expected to reach the House floor sometime this week.
Budget negotiations begin
With less than two weeks remaining of the regular session, every hour will count as Republican and Democratic budget writers work to reconcile differences in the budgets for final passage in the House and Senate. Most lawmakers do not like the prospect of going into overtime, after spending an additional three months in special sessions last year to finalize budgets. This year is different, because these are “supplemental” budgets, which mostly address unanticipated changes in the original budgets adopted last year. There's no reason we cannot complete our business on time. Citizens expect and deserve no less!
Local teens serve as legislative pages
I'd like to take a moment to thank Justus Dahlinger and Benson Gonzales, both students from Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, who recently served for me as legislative pages.
Each year, young people from throughout the state between the ages of 14 and 16 participate in the legislative page program. Pages assist legislators by delivering messages and documents to lawmakers in their offices, committee rooms, and in the House chambers during floor sessions.
Justus is the fourth oldest of 11 children in his family. He is involved in Boy Scouts. Justus also likes to sing, dance and be involved in drama. He is the 15-year-old son of Rod and Gina Dahlinger of Monroe.
Benson plays the piano and the clarinet. He's also involved in choir and track in school. Benson is the 14-year-old son of Darren and Aminda Gonzales of Monroe.
For more information on the page program, go here.
This week in Olympia
Only one major committee hearing for your calendar this week:
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2
Commerce and Gaming Committee – House Hearing Room C – 9 a.m.
Reducing marijuana excise tax and state pre-emption of regulating, producing, processing and the retail sale of marijuana – Public hearing on House Bill 2988.
For a full agenda of the House committees, go here. To learn how to testify in committee, go here. Click here if you are planning to come to the Washington State Legislature in Olympia. If you'd like to look up a bill, go to the Legislature's Bill Information Page. Finally, you can track bills by creating an account and going to the tracking page here.
Your input is important
As we get close to completing the final days of the 2016 session, your input is as important as ever. We will be voting on many bills in the coming days. Please contact my office with your questions, comments and suggestions. It is an honor to serve you!
In your service,
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000