Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's Day 73 of the scheduled 105-day legislative session in Olympia. This is the time of the session when we get our first views of the budget proposals that pay for operations for our state for the next two years.
It's also an important time to hear from citizens as we prepare to take votes on critical issues in the final weeks of the session. That's why I will be participating in town hall meetings this Saturday, March 25, in Coupeville and Mount Vernon with Sen. Barbara Bailey and Rep. Norma Smith. Then next week, on Thursday, March 30, I will be holding a telephone town hall with Rep. Norma Smith. Details of these meetings are below. I hope you will join us!
On Thursday, the state's revenue forecast was released and it was good news! Incoming revenues for the current 2015-17 budget cycle are up by $247 million. The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council is projecting an increase of $303 million for the 2017-19 budget cycle.
This new information has allowed budget writers at the Capitol to plug in the new figures for their proposed two-year spending plans.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans released their operating budget proposal. Here are some of the highlights:
- It makes education the number one priority. With this budget, education funding will have doubled in a decade (2011 – $13 billion; 2021 – $27 billion);
- Education investments will be more than 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time in years and the highest since 1983;
- No new or major tax increases. It also will make our state's property tax system more fair and equitable;
- Funds public safety and protects the most vulnerable. Money is included for “deadly force” training and new classes for law enforcement officers. It adds $250 million over four years for mental health services; and
- Leaves a healthy amount — $2 billion — in the state's Rainy Day Fund to buffer against tax increases during economic downturns.
While I have highlighted the positive aspects of this proposal, I want to point out that I do have reservations with some of the aspects of this plan. I hope to share some of those concerns with you at a later time as we delve deeper into this budget.
House Democrats will unveil their operating budget proposal on Monday. While we do not yet know the details, we have heard rumors that the Democrat plan will depend on passage of tax increases. You may remember that in December, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee proposed $5.3 billion in tax hikes on energy, capital income, small businesses, vehicles and bottled water. A poll of our state revealed people think education should be the Legislature's number one priority, but a majority of those surveyed do not support tax increases.
Some are looking at these budget plans and already getting nervous. I would caution that this is the beginning of the process. The final budget will likely look much different from either of these plans. From here, negotiators will get together and work to craft a final compromise budget that can gain enough votes to pass both the House and Senate and get the governor's signature. Whether that can be done by the final day of the regular session on April 23 is anyone's guess. However, I don't believe there will be any advantage into dragging the Legislature into overtime at a cost to taxpayers of thousands of dollars a day. We know our responsibilities between now and the end of session. Let's finish the job you sent us here to do — and let's do it on time!
I would also remind folks that the last two biennial budgets passed with the largest bipartisan support in recent history. The compromise 2015-17 operating budget, Senate Bill 6052, passed with a vote of 90-8 in the House and 38-10 in the Senate. The compromise 2013-15 operating budget, Senate Bill 5034, passed the House, 81-11, and in the Senate, 44-4. It will be bipartisan work that gets us to the best possible budget.
Hayes' bills move forward
I'm pleased to report six of the 10 bills I prime sponsored passed the House of Representatives and are in various stages of the committee process over in the Senate. Although my liquor revenue sharing measure, House Bill 1113, did not make it out of the House by cutoff, it may be a part of the budget negotiations. Here's a quick look at my bills now under Senate consideration (click on the links for details):
House Bill 1369 – Would help veterans become eligible for hiring benefits immediately upon honorable discharge from the military. Awaiting action in the Senate State Government Committee. More details here.
House Bill 1480 – Would require additional criteria to be met for the Department of Licensing to suspend a driver's license. A public hearing has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 28, in the Senate Transportation Committee.
House Bill 1481 – Would create uniformity in driver training education provided by school districts and commercial driver training schools. A public hearing has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Monday, March 27, in the Senate Transportation Committee.
House Bill 1757 – Would add transient accommodations to the list of properties subject to inspection, condemnation and decontamination by certain hazardous chemicals. Awaiting action in the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. More details here.
House Bill 1931 – Would improve mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, including sex crimes against children. Passed the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee. Now in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting action on the Senate floor. More details here.
The next major deadline is Wednesday, March 29. Policy bills that have not passed from their respective opposite house committees by that cutoff are likely dead for the session. Hopefully, I'll see some movement of my bills out of the Senate committees in the week ahead.
Town halls – Your opportunity to speak up about legislative issues
As we draw closer to the final weeks of the 2017 regular session, I will be taking some critical votes on your behalf. That's why it is important to hear from you. My 10th District seatmates and I are providing several opportunities for you to speak and be heard.
In-district town hall meetings
Saturday, March 25 with Sen. Barbara Bailey, Rep. Norma Smith and Rep. Dave Hayes
Coupeville: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
WhidbeyHealth Medical Center
101 N Main St, Coupeville, WA 98239
Conference Rooms A and B on the first floor
Mount Vernon: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Skagit County PUD
1415 Freeway Dr, Mt Vernon, WA 98273
More details here.
Telephone town hall – RESCHEDULED TO APRIL 6
Thursday, April 6 with Rep. Norma Smith and Rep. Dave Hayes
6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Participate from the comfort of your home! Call: (425) 616-0578. If you have a question, press the star (*) key on your telephone keypad.
More details here.
I look forward to your questions and talking with you about the issues affecting you and the 10th District. If you cannot participate, please feel free to contact my office any time with your questions, comments and suggestions. My contact information can be found below.
Thank you for allowing me to serve and represent you!