Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's an honor to serve you as part of the 5th Legislative District team. The 2014 legislative session began January 13 and is scheduled to adjourn March 13. During short sessions, our work typically includes adjusting the state operating budget for caseload changes, minor changes to other budgets where needed and basically finishing our business from the previous session.
However, after the governor's State of the State address January 15, there may be a lot more on our plates, such as carbon taxes on fuel, a multi-billion transportation tax package, additional K-12 education spending, a possible minimum wage increase and others. In this brief update, I will share some thoughts on the two issues I see us focusing on during the 60-day session.
Transportation taxes, reforms
We have all read the articles and seen the investigative reports on the local news about the faulty pontoons for the 520 Bridge, the tunnel machine getting stuck due to a pipe our own Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) put in place years before and the ferry labor and design issues. We know before asking hard-working taxpayers to pay more for these projects through new and higher taxes, serious cost-saving reforms must take place. Here are some reforms I support that would get projects going sooner and ensure your money is spent wisely:
House Bill 2092 would prohibit state transportation tax and fee collections from being spent on artwork, decorative finishes or designs on infrastructure projects unless they are integral to the function of a transportation structure.
House Bill 2094 would essentially end the practice of the state charging sales tax on transportation project materials and labor. The practice of charging this sales tax has taken an untold amount of transportation dollars protected under the state constitution's 18th Amendment and applied them to the state general fund that pays for services and programs outside of transportation.
House Bill 2096 would speed up projects by creating an exemption in the state environmental policy act for transportation projects in jurisdictions with comprehensive plans that were subject to an environmental analysis prior to adoption. Much like what was done for the Skagit River Bridge and the 520 Bridge.
Constituents have consistently told me that while they understand the need for taxes for infrastructure, they are not willing to pay more for a broken, inefficient and ineffective system. I look forward to the debate and hope that these simple reforms start a larger move toward putting congestion relief and transparency at the top of our transportation infrastructure wish list.
K-12 education funding
I was proud to support the 2013-15 state operating budget that put an additional $1.6 billion into K-12 education. But, we didn't just put those dollars into the system, we passed reforms that improve student outcomes and support our teachers. Funding all-day kindergarten, class-size reductions, transportation and materials, supplies and operating costs free up local levy dollars to be used as they are intended.
Many of you may have seen the latest state Supreme Court order in the McCleary education funding case. While I disagree with the implied power of the court to dictate budgets to the Legislature, I will wait to see what the state attorney general thinks about the ruling. One thing is clear – the current budget carves the pathway to meet our funding goals by 2018 in a way that allows for sustainable and prioritized spending.
Need a speaker?
If you or a civic group you are part of would like me to offer a legislative update speech at an event, please feel free to call my office. I make myself available whenever possible during the legislative session as well as afterward. I am always happy to meet with you in Olympia as well while we are in session.