Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this e-mail update finds you well and that you are looking forward to the summer months ahead.
The Legislature concluded its business on May 25 following a 103-day regular legislative session and 30-day special session. I'm disappointed that state lawmakers could not finish their work on time, at the expense of taxpayers, but I'm encouraged by some of the results in the special session.
As I talked about in my first e-mail update this year, I came to Olympia in January focused on creating jobs, strengthening our economy and enacting a priorities-based, balanced operating budget that does not raise taxes. We had some hits and misses in these the areas, and I talk about them below.
With Olympia in my rearview mirror, I look forward to spending more time with my family, meeting with constituents and enjoying all that our communities have to offer. While the Legislature only meets a few months out of each year, please remember that I'm your full-time state representative. I'm always here to take your questions, listen to your ideas and assist you with state government. It continues to be an honor to represent the great people of the 5th District.
Creating jobs and strengthening our economy
I have talked to several small-business owners and many continue to tell me the same thing: their biggest challenges are our state's inefficient and costly workers' compensation and unemployment insurance systems. Fortunately, state lawmakers took steps to address some of the problems in these systems and this should hopefully lead to more employer certainty and job creation.
Unemployment insurance reform
Two important pieces of legislation passed early in the regular legislative session and were quickly signed into law. Senate Bill 5135 provides employers a much-needed unemployment insurance (UI) rate reduction this year and prevents a sharp rate increase. Without this bill, employers' UI rates would have increased by $366 million this year. This would have been on top of a $360 million, or 42 percent increase, in 2010.
House Bill 1091 provides a more stable and long-term fix to our UI system through a recalculation of rates for employers. It also provides extended benefits for those who would have lost them this spring and offers training benefits for workers who have been displaced. So not only will it help to create jobs, but it will help those who are without one.
I voted for both of these bills.
Workers' compensation reform
I joined a bipartisan coalition that included the governor, Senate, moderate House Democrats and all House Republicans to support Senate Bill 5566. This legislation would have offered certain injured workers a new voluntary settlement option, in addition to other reforms that would have saved our state's failing workers' compensation system around $1.2 billion over just two years. However, the House majority party leadership would not allow it to move forward.
On day 28 of the special session, a compromise came forth in the form of House Bill 2123. This legislation will provide a new structured settlement option for certain injured workers, includes a fraud prevention mechanism, requires a performance audit of claims, and offers other reforms. This will save our system around $1.1 billion over four years and prevent large workers' compensation rate increases on our employers. Rates have been increased nine times since 2000.
While House Bill 2123 is not as strong as Senate Bill 5566, I voted for it because it will create jobs and improve our business climate. This measure, along with unemployment insurance reforms, will provide certainty to employers and sends the right message to businesses that are looking to expand in or relocate to Washington.
2011-13 operating budget
The operating budget pays for our K-12 public schools, higher education, corrections, social services, and other areas state government. It was not until day 28 of the special session that budget writers came to an agreement on the 2011-13 operating budget. In less than 24 hours, state lawmakers voted on the $32 billion spending plan. I voted against this plan for the following reasons:
- it fails to prioritize K-12 education by cutting $1.7 billion – including reducing teachers' salaries by 1.9 percent, which will be difficult to implement;
- it makes our communities less safe by cutting 76 community corrections workers – resulting in 1,931 fewer offenders on active supervision;
- it relies on $458 million in fund transfers, which is not a sustainable approach; and
- while it does not raise taxes, it does include 48 different fee increases – totaling $243 million.
I acknowledge that closing a $5 billion budget gap was not an easy task and that I did support many of the concepts in the operating budget. But in the end, I simply could not vote for it for the reasons above. The final approach abandoned what I feel are the priorities of government – education, public safety and the protection of our most vulnerable – while leaving many programs and services intact that fall beneath these priorities and that our state cannot afford. Lawmakers missed an opportunity to transform state government in meaningful ways and put our budget on a path of sustainability.
Lowering the state debt
A bipartisan coalition also banded together to push for lowering the state debt limit. Senate Joint Resolution 8215, also called “The Debt Reduction Act of 2011,” would have phased down our state debt limit from 9 to 7 percent in half-percent increments beginning in 2016 and ending in 2022. The goal was to reduce the debt payments our state makes in its operating budget and free up more resources for the priorities of government. I supported Senate Joint Resolution 8215, which would have required a vote of the people because it included a change to our state constitution.
A negotiated compromise was presented on day 29 of the special session. Senate Bill 5181, which I voted for, will result in a smaller version of our 2011-13 capital budget and begin to reverse the trend of increasing state debt. The legislation will also create a new group that will study and recommend changes to the state's debt capacity. Senate Bill 5181 does not go as far as Senate Joint Resolution 8215, but it's incremental progress.
Last Monday, our country paused to honor the accomplishments and commitments – both past and present – of the men and women of our armed services. As a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Memorial Day carries special meaning to me. I'm so proud of what our military personnel have done and continue to do – not only for our country, but for our communities. From the bottom of my heart, I simply say thank you.
I sponsored legislation this year that will permit (not require) employers to give veterans preference in employment decisions. House Bill 1432, signed into law April 20, will allow private employers to establish preferences in employment for veterans, widows or widowers of veterans, and spouses of certain veterans. This bill will provide veterans with more employment opportunities and is the first of its kind in the country. You can learn more about Hire America's Heroes and other efforts that went into the measure by clicking here.
Video updates from 2011
Throughout the regular legislative session this year, I taped short video updates that were sent to Issaquah, North Bend and Sammamish TV stations, in addition to being posted on my Web site. In these updates, I touched on the topics of: the operating and transportation budgets; reducing the size of state government; jobs and the economy; and a few other issues. You can find these updates by clicking here.