Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 193 days — the longest session in state history — the Legislature finally adjourned. While taking three extra sessions to finish business for the year is less than ideal, I'm proud of the work we were able to accomplish.
New transportation budget brings funding to East King County projects
During the first special session, the governor signed an $8.5 billion transportation budget. Of the funding provided in the new, two-year budget, nearly $9 million will be funneled to projects impacting the 5th Legislative District.
Chief among those projects is the I-90/SR 18 interchange project, which will improve travel times and safety at the interchange. The project was given $150 million in the Connecting Washington package, a 16-year plan that passed the state Legislature in 2015, but the design of the project wouldn't have begun until 2023. Together, Sen. Mark Mullet, Rep. Paul Graves and I were able to secure an additional $5 million in the 2017-19 transportation budget to advance the project's design process by six years so it could begin later this year.
The I-90/SR 18 interchange is one of the busiest interchanges in our state. With recent collisions that have nearly cost lives, and with routine gridlock that leaves cars idling on the roadways and prevents goods from getting to market, we simply couldn't wait until 2023 to see progress on this project.
In addition to the interchange project and SR 18 widening, $1.5 million has been allocated to redesign the intersection of SR 900 and 12th Ave. N.W. in Issaquah. The project will increase turning capacity at the intersection and reduce the amount of time commuters sit at a red light. Other local projects 5th District residents can expect to see the next two years include repaving of the I-90/Front Street exit in Issaquah and a new street overlay in North Bend.
For a full list of projects affecting the 5th District, click here and select “5th Legislative District.”
Legislature fully funds K-12 education with McCleary-fix bill
With the passage of House Bill 2242, the Legislature has now fulfilled its constitutional obligation to fully fund schools according to the high court's 2012 McCleary decision. The governor himself agreed, saying it “fully funds our schools for the first time in decades and will meet our constitutional obligations.”
Some of the highlights of House Bill 2242 include:
- increased state-funded compensation by $6 billion over four years to equip school districts with resources to recruit and retain quality staff and provide students with an equitable education program;
- minimum and maximum salary levels to ensure funding is distributed for teachers in all district at all levels of experience;
- an automatic, annual COLA, keeping state salary allocations in pace with inflation;
- a reduction in the variation of teacher salaries in order to prevent teacher migration from poor districts to wealthy districts;
- ensuring equity for students and taxpayers by capping local levy rates to provide relief to taxpayers in property-poor districts while also providing a per-pupil enrichment cap that will increase uniformity in extracurricular options for students; and
- a vigorous reporting and accounting system to ensure separation and tracking of revenues, thus providing transparency in both state funding and local decision-making and to prevent unconstitutional overreliance on local levies.
A major component of that decision was ending the state's overreliance on local levies and to instead rely on a stable funding source. House Bill 2242 does just that.
Due to current levy policy remaining in effect through next year, every school district in the state will see increased property taxes before a new school levy cap is enacted in 2019 — set at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. However, between 2019 and 2021, many will see property tax reductions compared to what they would have seen under current law in those corresponding years. Despite these tax cuts, our school districts will see an influx of funding that will provide an equitable education for all, and will hopefully lead to improved student outcomes.
Legislature passes new operating budget
After 172 days of session, the Legislature finally passed a compromise budget. The two-year, $43.7 billion budget makes a number of critical investments. For the first time since the 1980s, K-12 education makes up more than 50 percent of the budget.
In addition to historic education investments, the budget:
- aids those providing necessary services to our most vulnerable populations;
- makes crucial investments in mental health that will help transition less-acute individuals out of state hospitals, which will help increase the availability of services for forensic patients; and
- improves the foster care system by enhancing respite care and providing additional options for children who are hardest to place.
Unfortunately, I still couldn't vote for this budget. Under this spending plan, state spending is slated to increase 14 percent compared to the 2015-17 biennium and another 14 percent in 2019-21. That's nearly a 30 percent increase over four years. This drastic increase in spending is simply unsustainable as it relies on one-time revenue sources and other budget gimmicks.
On July 20, the final day of the third special session, lawmakers returned to Olympia in hopes of passing a capital budget and a solution to an October 2016 state Supreme Court water rights case.
Known as the Hirst decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that in order for counties to comply with the Growth Management Act, they have an independent responsibility to ensure water availability for land use decisions – instead of the Department of Ecology (DOE). As a result, development throughout rural Washington has been jeopardized.
To chalk this up to being nothing more than a rural issue would be a fallacy, however. Without water, properties lose their value. And as property values throughout rural communities decline, other property owners and urban areas will begin to bare the shifting tax burden.
A few months ago, lawmakers agreed to negotiate a 'Hirst fix' and a capital budget (which funds construction projects throughout the state) simultaneously. Republicans in the Legislature believed it would have been hypocritical to pass a capital budget so the state can build projects without also passing a long-term solution to the Hirst decision so property owners can build on their private property.
Sadly, in the final hours of the third special session, lawmakers couldn't reach an agreement. To let the session fizzle with leaving two important bills on the table is disappointing, but I am committed to working with my colleagues throughout the interim to reach a compromise on both a capital budget and a Hirst fix.
I wanted to say a heartfelt 'thank you' to everyone residing in the 5th District who has reached out to my office this legislative session. Whether you've emailed or called, attended my March town hall meetings, or personally visited me in Olympia, your participation in the legislative process has been appreciated. It's important I hear your perspectives and ideas for improving state government. I encourage you to continue contacting my office to share your thoughts and concerns.
It's an honor serving you!