Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2013 regular session ended April 28 and we are now in the first week of the special session, which began Monday. For the most part, key budget negotiators and a few lawmakers are at the state Capitol this week. The remainder have been told to stay home because an agreement has yet to be reached on a budget that would pay for the operations of the state for the next two years. It doesn't make sense for all legislators to be at the Capitol at the full expense of the taxpayers if they have nothing to vote on.
When Gov. Jay Inslee called the special session, he was also hoping lawmakers would revisit some of his pet policy issues that didn't pass during the 105-day regular session. Those issues, in my opinion, were thoroughly discussed and don't need to be re-hashed. We need to keep our focus only on bills necessary to implement the budget and avoid distractions that would risk extending the Legislature beyond the 30-day special session.
The state budget
Negotiations are under way between budget writers in each caucus. For those of you who may not be aware, there are three budgets within our state that fund a myriad of services. They are the operating, capital and transportation budgets. To learn more details about these budgets, you may visit the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP) Web site.
We passed a transportation budget prior to the Legislature adjourning the regular session. It is the major differences within the operating budget that has pushed the Legislature into overtime.
The Senate, House and governor each introduced their own spending plans. Each group took a different approach at funding the budgets. This year, the House Democrats and governor both proposed operating budgets that included tax increases. The budget released by the Senate did not include tax increases. During the special session, extensive negotiations will take place in order to come to an agreed solution. The figures in the chart on the right reflect the major difference between the budget proposals.
A key feature of the House Democrats and governor's proposals would raise taxes by $879 million and deplete the “rainy day fund” to unacceptable levels. Additionally, the proposals make no reforms to address out-of-control spending. These tax increases would hurt working families and small business owners when our fragile economy is starting to show signs of recovery.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget proposes to balance spending within the expected tax collections. Therefore, it contains no new or increased taxes, while allocating more money to priority services such as education and public safety. It should be noted state tax collections over the next two years are projected to increase by $2 billion – without tax increases.
I am fully in favor of increasing spending on education to comply with the State Supreme Court's mandate via the “McCleary Decision.” While all of these budgets increase spending on education, raising taxes is not needed to do that. Education shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip to force taxpayers to accept additional taxes. Education should be funded with our first tax dollars, not our last. It is my opinion that the state's budget should be focused on identified priorities and the state should live within its means. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus' initial budget plan represents the priorities of education, public safety and caring for the most vulnerable. This is a model for what is possible.
Status update on my sponsored bills
Often in the legislative process, two pieces of identical legislation are introduced in the House and Senate, and we call them “companion bills.” The concept behind companion bills is that with two pieces of legislation moving through the process, one will make it to governor to sign into law.
I sponsored House Bill 1132, House Bill 1345 and House Joint Memorial 4000. With respect to each of these bills, the identical companion Senate bill/memorial made it through the legislative process and was signed by the governor.
- House Joint Memorial 4000/Senate Joint Memorial 8001 designates Interstate 5 (I-5) as the “Purple Heart Trail.” While the official name of the highway wouldn't change, the Washington State Transportation Commission allows naming highways and bridges to institute an enduring memory of a person or group of people who have contributed significantly to the well-being of the state or nation. I-5 is a lifeline within our state. Naming this roadway the “Purple Heart Trail” brings honor and recognition to our state's military veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country and communities. (Click here to listen to my floor speech in favor of Senate Joint Memorial 8001.) This has been filed with the Secretary of State's office.
- House Bill 1132/Senate Bill 5161 extends the eligibility of Gold Star license plates from parents of fallen soldiers to include spouses of veterans killed in action. I included an amendment which would allow the children of our fallen men and women to be eligible to apply for a Gold Star license plates as well. I believe spouses and children should have the ability to demonstrate the honor of the memory of their husband, wife or parent by displaying the Gold Star plates. Gov. Inslee signed the bill May 3.
- House Bill 1345/Senate Bill 5114 gives AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and Job Corps, as well as our military recruiters, equal access to high school campuses already afforded to other higher education institutions or occupational recruiters. This is important for Washington's students as it allows them to understand all opportunities available to them after high school. Programs and organizations such as these will give our students greater opportunity to life experiences, job opportunities and higher education resources. AmeriCorps, Job Corps and our military provide money for education after completion of service. In our current economy, students need the opportunity to consider every choice available to advance themselves through higher education and a variety of occupations. I am pleased the governor signed the bill April 22.