Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After a 20-day special session that followed a 60-day regular session, the Legislature completed its business and adjourned March 29. I will be sending a full report of the accomplishments of both the 2015 and 2016 sessions in a mailed newsletter during the first part of May. However, here is a quick email update of this year's session and special session.
No major tax increases
I shared the frustration of many that the Legislature once again went into a special session. It's largely because the House majority wanted to raise taxes by $119 million. This included increased taxes on bottled water, travel agents, prescription drugs, and the elimination of the sales tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers – which would have especially hurt our local Clark County retailers. Majority Senate Republicans said “no!” I was glad to see the final supplemental operating budget agreement did not contain any of those proposed major tax increases.
Supplemental operating budget – I voted no
The supplemental operating budget passed on March 29. It adds another $15 million for K-12 education, including $5 million to recruit and retain K-12 staff and support for beginning teachers. An additional $16 million was provided for early learning and child care. About $41 million was added for mental health programs. There's an additional $31 million for long-term care services and assistance for the developmentally disabled. The agreement also uses $190 million from the state's rainy day account to pay for wildfire suppression last year.
Unfortunately, I could not vote in favor of the supplemental operating budget this year. Once again, budget writers swept away money from the state's Public Works Assistance Account. This is money used for low-interest loans by our cities, counties and local governments to pay for water, sewer and road infrastructure projects. I am also very concerned about the low-funding level of the integrated health system for Clark County as we move away from the Regional Support Network.
I stood on the House floor and explained why I could not vote for this budget. You can listen to my floor speech here or click on my photo below.
Supplemental capital budget brings projects home
You send a lot of your tax money to Olympia. It is good to have some of it come back to the local area for improvements.
The 2015-17 capital budget spends $3.7 billion on construction and repair of public buildings and for other long-term investments, such as land acquisitions and transfers. I worked to include $500,000 in the supplemental capital budget for improvements to the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Museum and its maintenance facility in Yacolt to boost our rural economy and preserve the historic steam engines.
Transportation – Improving our short-line railroads
The 2016 supplemental transportation budget provides an additional $416 million for projects and operating programs throughout the state.
Lawmakers approved an amendment I offered that provides $300,000 to pay for initial environmental permitting and design costs for reconstruction of the bridge trestle on the Chelatchie Prairie short line railroad.
I was also pleased the Legislature approved pay raises for our hard-working Washington State Patrol troopers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains by 5 percent, beginning July 1.
I will not give up seeking affordable cross-river solutions
When The Columbian printed an editorial with their opinion on the bridge issue, I received numerous emails from my constituents telling me to stay the course and defend affordable common-sense solutions that Clark County residents can support. In a response opinion editorial, I promised them I would not give up, and I haven't.
I have worked the past two years to bring Washington and Oregon legislators together to create a bipartisan, bi-state bridge legislative workgroup that would seek out affordable cross-river solutions. I co-sponsored a bipartisan measure, House Bill 2414, to create this group. Although it passed unanimously from the House Transportation Committee, it quickly died in the House Rules Committee. I was told there are too many state legislators not yet ready to move beyond the Columbia River Crossing for an affordable solution our citizens can support.
Some will simply not support any solution unless it contains light rail. They choose to ignore the majority of our local citizens. In 2013, 68 percent of Clark County voters said they oppose light rail. See the election results map online at http://gis.clark.wa.gov/Election/2013. Even The Columbian said in its own editorial last year that light-rail access is a “deal breaker.”
While I'm disappointed that my bill didn't move forward, I am more determined than ever to find affordable solutions that will relieve traffic congestion on the I-5 corridor and lead to better freight mobility. As I said it my video at The Columbian, “Freight can't wait. Let's get on it!”
You can view that video here or click on the video box below.
Pike day care bill signed into law
After vetoing 27 other bills (of which we did overrides on each), I was pleased Gov. Inslee signed my bill to eliminate a costly and unnecessary Department of Early Learning regulation. House Bill 2511 removes the regulation on day care centers that was forcing them to separate five-and six-year-olds who attend school from those of the same age not yet enrolled in school. There's no demonstrated benefit of separating these youngsters from the rest of the children. The only result was that it raised the cost of day care, making it harder for young, working families to afford child care expenses. Read more from my press release.
Olympia office opens year round with new assistant
I am very happy to announce Shelby Pelon as my new legislative assistant. As a cost-saving measure, I have decided to keep my legislative office at the state Capitol in Olympia through the year. When you call my office, Shelby will be the friendly voice on the other end of the phone.
I work for you throughout the year, not just when the Legislature is in session. Your calls, emails, letters and phone calls are extremely important to me and help me do a better job of representing you and the 18th District. I also enjoy face-to-face meetings with constituents through the year. Plus, I am also happy to be a speaker with any groups, agencies or organizations interested in legislative issues. I encourage you to contact me any time. You'll find my contact information below.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"