Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After nearly six months in a regular session and two special sessions, a budget deal was reached and announced on June 27. I'm very pleased to report the Legislature passed a 2015-17 operating budget by a vote of 90-8 in the House and 38-10 in the Senate, the highest margin of support in 65 years.
It has been frustrating that it took so long to come to an agreement and pass the budget in the third special session, just hours before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. I'm very happy to report the final bipartisan $38 billion spending plan is a budget that was worth the wait, especially when it comes to education where we've increased K-12 funding by 19 percent, the largest percentage increase in state history.
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!
To find out more about this historic budget, I invite you to watch my video update. I also talk about this budget and provide a legislative update on my podcast program, Capitol Conversation. You can listen to that program here.
House approves transportation revenue package – I voted 'no'
Just after midnight July 1, the transportation revenue package came to the House floor for a vote. This is the 16-year, $16 billion measure that will raise the gas tax incrementally to 11.9 cents per gallon, along with some hefty increases on vehicle weight fees and license fees. The measure passed the House with a vote of 54-44, and also passed the Senate 37-7.
I voted “no.” Here's why:
The voters of this state have told the Legislature five times they didn't want tax increases without a two-thirds supermajority or a vote of the people — the last time in 2012 by a record 28 percent margin. While the state Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional amendment is necessary for the supermajority requirement, I feel we owe it to taxpayers to let them weigh in on what will be the largest tax increase in Washington state history. Instead, Senate Bill 5987 contains an emergency clause that prohibits a voter referendum. In other words, you will have no say in the matter.
I supported an amendment that would have replaced the emergency clause with a referendum clause and put this bill on the November ballot for the people to decide. Unfortunately, the House majority blocked that effort. While I recognize the need to invest in our infrastructure to reduce congestion and move our products to market, I can't support excluding taxpayers from this important decision. Our constituents have insisted repeatedly that they expect a vote of the people.
Also, in an online survey I conducted in March, most 5th District respondents said they are not willing to pay any additional gas tax for building new roads, maintaining existing transit service, adding new transit service, ferries, bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths. Read more here about that survey.
Last-minute 'monkey wrench' delays end of third special session
We had expected to vote on the budgets and be finished by the night of June 30 or very soon afterward. Unfortunately, some last-minute horse trading attempted in the early morning hours of July 1 delayed the end of the third special session.
Despite an agreement, Senate Democrats refused to provide the necessary votes on legislation to suspend I-1351 (class-size reduction initiative). The agreed-upon bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support, needs 33 votes to pass out of the Senate. This requires some Senate Democrats to vote for it. Instead, Senate Democrats demanded that a high school assessment reform measure, House Bill 2214, be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. While I worked on revisions to that bill in the House to get bipartisan support, it was not in the original agreement as a condition to pass the budgets.
The measure to suspend I-1351 failed on the Senate floor, effectively blowing a $2 billion hole in the operating budget we had just passed. You can read more about what happened that morning in this editorial column in The News Tribune.
Handshakes should mean something in Olympia. This last-minute maneuvering not only broke trust, but jeopardized bipartisan state spending plans that are important to so many people and communities. As the sun was coming up, lawmakers were dismissed and headed out of Olympia, waiting until cooler heads could prevail.
The end is near
Yesterday afternoon, the governor's office announced an agreement has been reached on the student assessment bill. The Senate will convene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to finish their work. The House will convene tomorrow at 10 a.m. With any luck, the third special session has a good chance of coming to a close sometime tomorrow, completing the work we began in January and culminating in passage of some 300 bipartisan bills that will benefit Washingtonians and communities across our state.
That's all for this week. In the next update, I'll provide a wrap-up of the final days of the third special session. Please contact my office if you have questions or comments. My contact information is below.
427 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7876 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000