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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It is wonderful to be back home on my farm in Camas, seeing familiar faces in the neighborhood, and knowing that at least for now, that the Legislature's business is finished in Olympia.
After 176 days, including a regular session and three special sessions, the Legislature finally adjourned last Friday, July 10. I share in the frustration that it took nearly six months from the time we convened Jan. 12 to complete the work. However, the silver lining in that cloud is those extra sessions actually saved taxpayers from billions in new taxes and produced one of best state operating budgets for K-12 education in more than 30 years.
Republicans held firm to protect citizens against major tax increases
As early as November, Gov. Jay Inslee said tax increases were necessary to balance the state budget and meet the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision about obligations for K-12 education. He proposed an annual $1 billion cap-and-trade carbon tax, but even his own party did not have the votes to support it, so by mid-session, his proposal fizzled. Instead, House Democrats proposed a plan to create a new capital gains income tax, along with business tax increases, eliminating the border tax exemption (which supports many of our local businesses), and adding a tax on bottled water. All told, they were seeking about $1.5 billion in tax increases.
My Republican colleagues and I felt these major tax increases were completely unnecessary, given that Washington is already collecting a record $3 billion in additional revenue because of economic growth in the Puget Sound region.
In April, House Democrats passed an operating budget built on these tax increases. However, they never brought their tax-increase package to the floor for a vote. The insistence of tax increases is what pushed the Legislature into overtime. In May, the revenue forecast boosted projected incoming revenues by more than $400 million, taking any remaining wind out of Democrats' argument that major tax increases are needed. Republican negotiators held firm and by mid-June, into the second special session, Democrats dropped their capital-gains and business-tax increase proposals in exchange for closure of some small tax loopholes. This finally broke the logjam and allowed the Legislature to move forward toward an operating budget agreement.
Historic achievements in final operating budget agreement
On June 29, the Senate passed the compromise 2015-17 operating budget agreement, Senate Bill 6052, with a vote of 38-10. The House followed a vote of 90-8. It was the strongest bipartisan approval of a budget in more than 25 years. The measure was signed by the governor June 30, just 20 minutes before the new fiscal year began on July 1.
I was proud to support the operating budget because it makes an historic 19 percent increase in education funding, lowers college tuition by an average of 15 percent and strengthens mental health services across the state. It fully funds public education, protects our most vulnerable, and keeps our communities safe — all without taking more money from Washington's working families.
Here's a quick look at the highlights of the new operating budget:
2015-17 operating budget highlights
- Invests about $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education, meets the state's constitutional obligations, expands access to full-day kindergarten and decreases class sizes in grades K-3;
- Funds the I-732 cost-of-living raise for teachers, plus a little extra.
- Makes a major investment in early learning, including Early Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program;
- Reduces the cost of tuition at the state's four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges, and increases funding for College Bound scholarships;
- Fully funds collective bargaining agreements for state employees and home care worker contracts and retirement benefits;
- Makes investments to address court-mandated fixes in the state's mental health system and increases funding for other important social services;
- Increases funding for state parks; and
- Meets the state's four-year balanced budget requirement without capital gains tax, carbon tax, cap-and-trade, or a general sales tax increase!
It took longer than it should have, but standing firm through three special sessions in order to vote in favor of a two-year state operating budget that contained no major tax increases was the right thing to do.
Eighteenth District residents repeatedly tell me they want state government to live within their means. I agree with them. We did that within this budget, made historic investments in K-12 education that I'm very proud of, and for the first time in state history, cut tuition, which will save students and middle-class families nearly $2,000 per year. All-in-all, well worth the six months in session. But I am glad to be back home!
I invite you to read more on my thoughts about the session in my Sine Die press statement here.
That's all for this week. In my next e-newsletter, I'll tell you why I voted against the $16 billion transportation revenue package, which contains the highest gas tax increase in state history. Please contact my office if you have questions or comments. My contact information is below.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"
469 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7812 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000