Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I'm hoping to bring good news to you within the next several days about an operating budget agreement. All “five corners,” which consist of House and Senate Democrats, House and Senate Republicans and the governor's staff have been meeting each morning in the governor's office for the past week. It appears they are moving closer to an agreement.
Throughout the regular legislative session and first special session, House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee have insisted on tax increases, even in the face of record projections of tax collections for the upcoming biennium. It appears that they may be backing off, although they haven't yet given up on raising taxes. Last week, House Democrats released a new version of their budget. While they have dropped a significant portion of their tax increase proposals from their budget plan, they retained their capital gains income tax proposal of $550 million on more than 32,000 Washington citizens. Voters in our state have rejected various forms of an income tax four separate times on the ballot, the latest in 2010.
Republican negotiators have continued to hold the line by rejecting any proposal that would effectively become an income tax as a part of the final budget plan. So this week, House Democrats came up with a new proposal: a 45 percent tax on e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. The tax is estimated to bring in $20 million to $460 million a year. (Incidentally, House Democrats have not yet said whether they will drop their capital gains income tax proposal.)
The May revenue forecast should have settled the arguments on tax increases. This forecast projected an additional $415 million in revenues above the earlier projections of more than $3 billion. Taken together, the state now expects to take in an additional $3.2 billion in tax revenues. That's a 9.2 percent increase over the last budget cycle!
Washington state does not need new tax increases. There's plenty of money to make major investments in our schools, including teacher cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), fund collective bargaining agreements, improve our mental health system and reduce tuition — all without increasing taxes. It's time to pass the operating and capital budgets and finish our work.
I am pleased to report that a maintenance-level transportation operating budget agreement has passed the House and Senate and was sent to the governor for his approval. Included in that budget plan is money I secured for Island Transit and Skagit Transit to restore and preserve several important routes. You can read more below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you. Please contact my office if you have any questions or comments about the topics in this e-newsletter, or other legislative matters. My contact information is at the bottom of this update.
Transit money included in final transportation operating budget bill
In April, when the House was considering its first version of the maintenance-level transportation operating budget, an amendment I authored to provide $1 million to be shared among Island Transit and Skagit Transit was approved. The money was appropriated to help restore the Everett Connector route between Camano Island and Everett that Island Transit was forced to close last summer due to the lack of funds. It was also to support Skagit Transit's Everett Connector route between Mount Vernon and Everett (read the press release).
I'm pleased the appropriation remained in the final transportation operating budget bill that passed the Legislature two weeks ago. The governor is expected to sign the transportation budget bill this Thursday in Cheney (near Spokane).
Funding is contingent on the charging of a fare for the Everett Connector service. Island Transit has not charged fares in the past, but its board is now considering adding them. Many people have told me they're willing to pay a fare to keep the service operating.
These are very important links for commuters and students to get them to and from work or school and back to Island and Skagit counties from Everett. I'm very glad we were able to secure funding in the final measure.
Testing fatigue sparks assessment reforms, with emphasis on local control
I've long been a supporter of local control of our schools and curriculum and a critic of all the unfunded mandates and requirements handed down to our local schools from the state. So I was very pleased to support a measure last Wednesday that would finally get a handle on all of the academic testing and assessment requirements in our schools.
Our students have been hit with so many different tests, it has set up many for failure. Educators are spending too much time teaching to the test, and students are spending too much time gearing their studies toward assessment tests.
House Bill 2214 would eliminate the existing alternative assessment options, including the Collection of Evidence, but retains the SAT/ACT score comparison. It would also allow students who do not score a three or four on the SBAC to earn the Certificate of Academic Achievement by taking and passing a locally determined course in that subject or subjects. The legislation encourages school districts to place the honors notation on the diploma, but does not require it.
By reducing the number of assessments, this legislation would ease the burden on school districts, teachers and students, and at the same time save about $30 million, which is money that could go to the classroom. Most importantly, it would add more local control to our education system.
The bill passed the House 87-7. It failed to move from the Senate before the end of the first special session. It's my hope we can take action again on this measure before the end of this second special session and send it to the governor.
Governor signs my bill to give priority college/university registration to military spouses
It was an honor for me to sponsor legislation this year giving military spouses priority registration for higher education institutions in Washington. House Bill 1052 was recently signed into law by Gov. Inslee.
The suggestion for the legislation came from Christian Arciniega of Granite Falls, whose husband, Andres, is in the National Guard. They came to Olympia, along with their daughters Kayla and Ava, to witness the bill signing (seen in the photo).
Husbands and wives are often at the mercy of their spouses' deployment schedule. This bill ensures they receive priority registration at our colleges and universities and furthers their ability to graduate on time.