Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Hello from Olympia! Welcome to the eighth week of the 2013 legislative session.
Last Friday marked the fiscal cut off for bills in their house of origin. That means that all house bills with a fiscal note had to pass through our House Appropriations Committee. This made for some really long days at the end of last week. Fewer than two percent of the bills we heard were Republican bills. This is one of the frustrating things about being in the minority party. However, I am still here, working hard on your behalf, no matter how steep this hill seems at times.
Supreme Court 2/3 majority ruling
Bad news came out last week as the Washington State Supreme Court struck down I-1053, a previous voter-approved requirement of a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase taxes. I was disappointed, noting that voters passed the most recent ballot measure, Initiative 1185 on Nov. 6, 2012 with 64 percent statewide approval. It passed in every single county. This was the fifth time such an initiative was passed by voters in Washington State.
I believe the ruling is a direct affront to a majority of Washington residents who voted overwhelmingly to require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature in order to raise taxes. Voters spoke loud and clear and said with their vote they want government to live within its means without raising taxes.
Voters are smart; they realize a two thirds majority requirement will make it very difficult for us to raise taxes. It's our job in the Legislature to keep faith with the voters who put us here. This is why it is so important to elect Representatives and Senators who will do just that – respect the will of voters.
I feel so strongly about this issue that at the beginning of the session, I co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 4206 which would amend our state constitution and add the two-thirds requirement for tax increases into our state's founding document. Sadly, the majority party refused to advance this ideal. Taxpayers have asked us to protect their hard-earned dollars, and I will continue to fight for struggling families in Clark County by listening to voters at the ballot box.
The wrong time for a gas tax
I'd like to thank those of you who participated in my impromptu “gas tax survey” last week. I heard a resounding “No” from about 97 percent of you. Your comments have told me what I already knew, that this tax could not come at a worse time for struggling families in our district and state.
Add this to the very recent failures of the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT):
- An exit ramp being built in the wrong place in Tacoma, and having to be ripped down and started over.
- The 520 floating bridge replacement pontoons developing cracks due to faulty engineering and a lack of modeling.
- Hiring one company without any competitive bid process that designed the Columbia River Crossing project too low for our commercial traffic and not holding the designers accountable for their costly mistake and redesign.
It is incredible to me to think legislators would accept this gas tax increase proposal and effectively give the Washington DOT a blank check without expecting some reforms and accountability.
Bad Bills of the Week:
Substitute House Bill 1817
Substitute House Bill 1817 passed out of House Appropriations last Friday. I voted against this bill that added eligibility criteria for illegal aliens to receive state funded financial aid for college tuition. I am opposed to this bill for a few simple reasons.
The State Need Grant (SNG) is designed to offset a portion of educational costs for low-income students. According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, during the 2011-12 academic year, 74,703 Washington students attending 68 institutions were served by the SNG. That same year, there were 32,171 Washington students who were eligible but were left out in the cold. Overall, $267 million was dedicated to the SNG, which made up 94 percent of expenditures on Washington student aid programs. With more than 32,000 students (legal residents) who need financial aid and are not getting a single dime, it is wrong to open this program up to students that are here illegally. All we are doing is making more promises we cannot keep.
I heard passionate testimony from both sides in our House Appropriations Committee. Some spoke about education being a path out of poverty. I get this, however, don't our own students living in poverty deserve the help first and foremost? And, what happens after the illegal resident gets a college degree, still without a social security number and valid way to become a working member of American society? By allowing benefits for those who are not here legally, all we do is make Washington a magnet for more illegal folks.
This is a controversial issue and as always, I would like to know how you feel.
Substitute House Bill 1872
Substitute HB 1872 is a priority bill from Governor Inslee that I also voted against. It is a big waste of money in order to provide our executive branch with a feel good piece of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) legislation. This proposed bill is also heading to the house floor this week. It would create a new mini state agency called the STEM Education Innovation Alliance to advise the Governor and provide vision to support STEM initiatives from early learning through higher Ed.
The fiscal note on SHB 1872 starts with $229,000 in 2014 and quickly ramps up to $12.2 million in 2015 with a total cost of $12.4 million in the 2013-15 biennium. Staff costs include a director of the alliance, a senior forecast analyst, manpower from the Office of Superintendent, and the State Board of Education and part of a Senior Graphic Artist FTE to create fancy annual report materials for future legislative review. Costs also include travel and money to hire an outside advertising agency to promote STEM programs throughout the state.
I am opposed to this costly program because I don't think it is necessary. Our schools are already fully engaged in STEM curriculum, with districts across the state collaborating with local industry leaders. Right here in Clark County, the Evergreen School District is a shining example. This Vancouver school district will open the Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) Health and Bioscience High School in the fall of 2013.
HeLa will offer basic core classes, math, science, English, social studies, as well as elective offerings of music, PE, digital arts, and medical foundations. Five program studies include nursing and patient services, health informatics, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, and pharmacy to 125 9th graders and 125 10th graders. The new high school will be located northeast of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver to provide the opportunity for students to access local industry professionals to extend the classroom into the world of work. All this was done through innovators in our local schools, leveraging local, state and federal dollars, and all accomplished without the help of another mini-state agency that will likely just get in the way. Again, I would like to hear if you agree we should not create one more mini state agency that will just cost the taxpayers more money.
As always, it is an honor to serve as your Representative. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"