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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This Sunday, April 23, is the scheduled end of the 2017 regular session. Unfortunately, the Legislature was unable to complete all of its business within the allotted 105 days. While we are very close to bipartisan agreements on the capital and transportation budgets, I am disappointed that majority Democrats in the House and majority Republicans in the Senate are miles apart on the largest and most important spending plan — the operating budget — and that this disagreement is forcing us into a special session.
Differences in the operating budget proposals
As has been reported in earlier email updates, the majority parties in both the House and Senate passed their respective budget proposals out with party-line votes. I have reservations with portions of each plan, but recognize both as starting points for negotiation purposes to reach our final compromise budget.
Behind the scenes, negotiations have continued on a McCleary education funding solution, which has been largely positive. Our House Republican representatives on the Education Funding Task Force, Reps. Paul Harris and David Taylor, are working hard to bring people together on this matter and bring positive influence to drive the group toward real solutions that will better serve our students and educators and satisfy the Supreme Court's McCleary ruling demands.
Over the upcoming special session, members from each caucus and the governor's office will be meeting regularly to negotiate the final operating budget. While the overall spending plans are just 2 percent apart, the way the two plans collect revenue and spending plans are miles apart.
To give you an idea of where this team is starting the negotiation, I can say that the House Democrat spending plan is built on $8 billion in new and additional taxes over the next four years. The problem is that they have refused to bring their own tax bills to the House floor for a vote. It's likely the House Democrat Caucus lacks the votes to pass those bills. Therefore, negotiations would be starting from the standpoint that they have a budget they cannot raise sufficient taxes to pay for.
Senate Republicans are coming from the standpoint that if the House Democrats cannot pass their own tax bills, there is no firm figure on where to begin their negotiations. Senate Republicans took the hard votes that would implement statewide levy reform by replacing levies with a new flat assessment as a state portion of the property tax. This plan is not popular among the House Democrats, many of whom represent the property-tax-rich areas around the Seattle metropolitan area that would be paying higher property taxes, while those in more rural, property-tax-poor areas of the state would see property tax decreases.
There are many other areas of divide to close as the budget negotiations begin, but what I would like to point out is that the last two biennial budgets began in very similar situations where we begin this planning process. While both of those budgets also required special sessions to negotiate, they have arguably been the most priority-based balanced budgets in recent history, and have passed with broad bipartisan support. It is my hope that this budget negotiation ends similarly.
State government grows faster than private sector
I have been amazed at the growth in state government in recent years. In 2000, the two-year state operating budget was $20.5 billion with a population of 5.9 million. In 17 years, the state has nearly doubled its spending to $38 billion, yet Washington's population has not doubled — growing only 18 percent to 7.2 million. Certainly, we've not seen an explosion in inflation rates to explain the expansive growth in state spending.
Under the House Democrats' operating budget proposal, spending would grow from $38 billion in the current biennium to $45 billion in the 2017-19 budget cycle. And as much as $51 billion in the 2019-21 budget cycle — a $20 billion increase in just eight years! To pay for this, majority Democrats want to raise taxes by as much as $8 billion in the next four years on business, real estate, prescription drugs, fuel, and add a new income tax on capital gains. This, despite the fact the state is already taking in an additional $3 billion for the coming budget cycle because of economic growth in the central Puget Sound region. By contrast, the Senate budget proposes to spend $43 billion in the coming two-year budget cycle.
I recognize that the cost of doing business goes up each year. However, we need to budget responsibly and keep in mind it is the taxpayers who earn this money to pay these bills.
The fact is Washington state government is already flush with money. We don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem! Instead of raising taxes, we need a budget built on the priorities of government that covers the “needs” of the state, not the “wants,” and live within its means.
Hayes bills heading to the governor
The 2017 session was a landmark of successes for my prime-sponsored bills. Out of 10 bills I introduced this year, five have passed the Legislature and are heading to the governor, and a sixth bill may be incorporated into the final state operating budget.
Here's a look at the bills going to the governor for signatures:
House Bill 1369 – Would help veterans become eligible for hiring benefits immediately upon honorable discharge from the military. More details here.
House Bill 1481 – Would create uniformity in driver training education provided by school districts and commercial driver training schools.
House Bill 1757 – Would add transient accommodations to the list of properties subject to inspection, condemnation and decontamination by certain hazardous chemicals. More details here.
House Bill 1931 – Would improve mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, including sex crimes against children. More details here.
Senate Bill 5346 – Would create the Gina Grant Bull Memorial Legislative Page Scholarship Program. I sponsored the House version of this measure, House Bill 1194. More details here.
Also, House Bill 1113, which would gradually restore revenue distribution from state liquor taxes to local governments to help pay for public safety programs, may likely be rolled into the omnibus state operating budget bill, which would enact the policy.
House, Hayes honor members of the U.S. Navy
I was honored to meet with active personnel from the U.S. Navy on April 6 when the state House of Representatives held “Navy Appreciation Day” at the state Capitol. More than 10,000 active duty members of the Navy serve in Washington state, including many at NAS Whidbey and the Everett Homeport in our 10th District's backyard. We adopted House Resolution 4637 recognizing the contributions of Navy personnel and their families.
I work for you year-round
Although the regular session comes to an end on Sunday, my work for you does not. I represent and work for you throughout the year. I maintain an office in Olympia and my legislative assistant, Mitchel Chitwood, is happy to take your calls. You'll find all of my contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!
467 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7914 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000