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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On Thursday, July 4, I had the privilege of speaking at an Independence Day celebration at Freedom Park on Camano Island. Veterans from the Korean War and World War II (including Pearl Harbor survivors) were in attendance and honored at the ceremony. It reminded me of how fortunate we are to have people willing to sacrifice and defend our freedoms so that we may live in a land of liberty.
Ronald Reagan said on Independence Day in 1981: “Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people. We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.“
I am truly honored to serve as your state representative in a citizen Legislature – a government of, by, and for the people – which exists because 56 men in the year 1776 pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to declare themselves and their country independent of a tyrannical king.
We are often frustrated and critical of our government – as we are free to express. However, I also believe we are blessed to live in a nation where, in the words of Alexander Hamilton: “Here, sir, the people govern.”
Legislature finishes its business, finally!
I am pleased to be back home following a legislative session and two special sessions that lasted 153 days. The sound of the last gavel fell on June 29. I know there was much frustration in the final weeks, but no one in my caucus ever believed that state government would be shut down, as Gov. Inslee warned. We felt it was unfortunate the governor resorted to these tactics to scare state employees, senior citizens and our most vulnerable citizens in an effort to produce an operating budget. We had hoped he would have shown the leadership to bring opposing sides together to hammer out a compromise proposal. Instead, our newly-elected House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, stepped up to that role. His office became a neutral venue for discussions and consensus between House and Senate Democrats, House Republicans, and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
Operating budget – a bipartisan document
It took longer to produce a budget because there were large philosophical differences between all parties. However, in the end, a final operating budget was crafted that all parties could support. As a freshman lawmaker, I'm told that's a rarity in Olympia. Usually it is one party that writes the budget while the other party is shut out. And then the vote is party-line. But this year, it was truly a bipartisan budget.
Here are some of the details:
- It spends $33.49 billion.
- It increases funding for K-12 education by $1 billion (based on the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision).
- It freezes tuition for state-supported public universities.
- The safety nets remain protected for our most vulnerable citizens and elderly population.
- About 2 percent of the budget is put away for reserves, with most in the rainy day fund (I would like to see that amount doubled).
In a statement Rep. Norma Smith and I released on June 28 – the night the operating budget passed – I noted another positive: “It also does not include the nearly $900 million dollars in tax increases originally proposed by House Democrats. And it expires more than $600 million dollars in taxes, including those against businesses, which should provide greater opportunities for employers to hire more people.”
Read our statement here.
Capital budget brings your tax money home for local projects
The state has three budgets: operating, capital and transportation. We passed a transportation budget before the end of the regular session in April (more on this later). The last budget to be adopted before the Legislature adjourned for the year was the capital budget. This provides for construction and repair of public buildings and long-term investments, such as land acquisition and transfers.
I voted in favor of the capital budget measure, Senate Bill 5035. It brings about $21 million of projects home to our district and areas adjacent to Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
- $9.2 million – floodplain management in the Mount Vernon area and along the Lower Stillaguamish River;
- $4.2 million – cleanup of Cornet Bay;
- $2.9 million – various land acquisition (includes several Skagit County farmlands, a community forest on Whidbey Island, and some restoration in Admiralty Inlet);
- $1.6 million – La Conner boardwalk; and
- $301,000 – Camano Island day-use access and facility renovation.
Transportation – Fix it before you fund it!
The governor has been largely critical of the the Legislature for not passing a transportation tax package before adjourning on June 29. House Democrats proposed to increase taxes by $6.5 billion over the next 12 years through House Bill 1954. This included, but was not limited to:
- A gas tax increase of 10 1/2 cents per gallon (6 cents in August this year and 4.5 cents in July 2014);
- A passenger weight fee increase between $15 and $35;
- A 15 percent weight fee increase for trucks over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight;
- A $5 fee for vehicle renewal registration;
- A $6 fee increase per year for enhanced driver's licenses and enhanced identicards; and
- Allowing Snohomish County Community Transit to impose a sales tax increase of up to 0.3 percent above the allowable rate of 0.9 percent upon a majority vote of the people.
During a telephone town hall meeting Rep. Smith and I held in March, we asked participants this survey question:
“The House Democrats have proposed a 10-cent increase for each gallon of gas you purchase. Would you be willing to pay 10 cents more a gallon to help pay for transportation projects in our state?
Eighty-one percent of the respondents said “no!”
My House Republican colleagues and I believe the state needs to “Fix it before you fund it!” We introduced the following reforms, which we believe should be implemented first to make your transportation dollars go further:
- House Bill 1236 and House Bill 1978 – expedite the permitting process. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays, which would stimulate economic activity.
- House Bill 1619 – suspend GMA requirements in counties with persistent unemployment, where excessive regulations often stand in the way of economic development.
- House Bill 1979 – facilitate the process for obtaining public/private partnership funding for small scale, non-toll transportation projects.
- House Bill 1985 – eliminate state and local sales and use tax on new transportation projects.
- House Bill 1986 (co-sponsored by Rep. Hayes) – require the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to report to the Legislature on engineering errors and mistakes that exceed $500,000. The report would need to explain how it happened, who was responsible, what disciplinary steps were taken, and what actions the secretary of transportation recommends to avoid similar errors in the future.
- House Bill 1984 – limit WSDOT's tort liability based on the amount of the department's actual fault, instead of allowing plaintiffs to recover the entire judgment from the deeper pockets of the state.
- House Bill 1988 (co-sponsored by Rep. Hayes) – direct the WSDOT to explore the cost and feasibility of expanding current software to all capital projects to ensure they are right-sized.
- House Bill 1989 (co-sponsored by Rep. Hayes) – limit bond terms for transportation projects to 15 years.
- House Bill 2071 (co-sponsored by Rep. Hayes) – expedite permitting and contracting for replacement work on Washington's aging and deficient bridges to bring down the costs and cut down the timeline for planning and construction.
Although some of the measures listed above passed the House, none made it through the entire Legislature to become law. As you can see, there are many options for cost-saving reforms before we ask citizens for more money. We also believe the House Democrats' transportation tax increase is not the right proposal. Too many people in our district are still struggling to get back on their feet after a rough four years with high unemployment and a difficult economy. They simply cannot afford to pay more at the pumps.
As I stated earlier, the Legislature passed an $8.8 million transportation budget earlier this year. This transportation tax proposal would be on top of that budget. For those reasons, I do not support calling the Legislature back into a third special session, as some have suggested, to pass whopping tax increases.
Traffic is moving over the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5
There is a lot of praise to go around for the quick response to the crisis of the Interstate 5 bridge falling into the Skagit River on May 23. Many thanks to the first responders who were at the bridge in minutes to help the three passengers of two vehicles that went into the water. Many thanks to Gov. Inslee, WSDOT, the federal government, my fellow legislators, county and city governments and emergency management agencies who all worked together to find a rapid solution. As a result, a temporary bridge was put in place and opened June 19.
WSDOT has announced that a Spokane construction company has been awarded a $6.87 million contract to build the permanent fix for the bridge. That contractor began work less than two weeks ago and is anticipated to have the finished section ready for installation after the Labor Day weekend and before Oct 1. Installation of the new span will require another full closure of I-5, with detour routes back in place until the permanent section can be opened. Please monitor the WSDOT Web site for details.
Since the state Supreme Court ruled in January 2012 that the Legislature was not stepping up to its responsibility to fully fund education, there has been a lot of focus given to public schools across the state. It reminded me that we have a lot of hard-working, dedicated teachers who make a difference in our classrooms and in the lives of students. I voted against House Bill 2043, which suspends cost-of-living raises for teachers, because I recognize how difficult it is for them to meet the state's educational requirements and make ends meet.
I recently had the opportunity to talk on camera about the difference teachers make – and specifically, about my machine shop teacher in Lewiston, Idaho, where I grew up: Mr. John Rudolph.
I am here to serve you as well as represent you!
Please remember that although the Legislature has adjourned, I work for you throughout the year. Please call my office in Olympia any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about state government. As I said in the opening of this e-newsletter update, ours is a government of, by and for the people. You are the people. Your involvement is what makes our state government work best. Please let me know how I can help you!
It is an honor to serve you!
467 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7914 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000