Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2015 legislative session began Jan. 12. This year, lawmakers are tasked with crafting a new, two-year budget. Making budget decisions can be difficult, but I'm confident that with 105 days scheduled for this session, we can get it done on time and without burdening working families.
Regarding the budget, we're expected to receive $3 billion more in state tax collections for this budget cycle than we had for the last. That's a near 9-percent increase. With those additional dollars we should be able to create a sustainable budget that funds our necessary services and makes some meaningful reforms.
However, after the governor's State of the State address last week, I'm afraid his budget proposals will seriously harm working Washingtonians. I'm disappointed that his first choice is to increase state spending by 15 percent and require $1.42 billion in net tax increases. Raising taxes should always be the last resort. Though I appreciate his willingness to offer a budget solution for the Legislature to chew on this session, I think – especially with an extra $3 billion coming down the pike – we have options that don't require irresponsible tax increases.
With the budget in mind, here are some thoughts on two issues that you'll be hearing more about in the budget discussion this session:
K-12 education funding
The state Supreme Court is currently holding the Legislature in contempt for not providing a sustainable funding plan to meet our constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education.
Last session, I was happy to support our bipartisan, supplemental operating budget, which devoted 36 percent of its 155 million to K-12 education. The year before, we passed a budget that put $1.6 billion into K-12 funding.
I'm happy to support increased K-12 education funding as our paramount duty outlined in our state constitution, but McCleary was clear that it's not all about the money. We need meaningful reforms that set our students on a path to success and ensure they are receiving a world-class education. These include reducing class sizes, funding all-day kindergarten, and providing necessary transportation and materials, supplies and operating costs so schools become less dependent on local levy dollars.
Speaking of class-size reductions, voters approved Initiative 1351 in November and now lawmakers have to figure out how the initiative will come into play this session. The Legislature has some options when it comes to this initiative but it's fate is still unknown. Despite it passing the state, voters in the 5th District rejected the initiative by 54.2 percent.
The I-90/SR 18 interchange project is my top transportation priority. This is a dangerous bottleneck that not only endangers the lives of commuters, but also threatens strategic freight operations. It's critical the Legislature explores some funding options so this much-needed project can get off the ground. I'm looking forward to having this discussion with my colleagues on the House Transportation Committee.
One thing is clear – we need to establish some reforms within the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). We've heard the news reports: SR 520 Bridge problems, Bertha blunders, and ferry labor and design-cost issues. We can't allow taxpayers to keep footing the bill of these costly projects without some accountability and cost-savings solutions. Stay tuned for transportation reform proposals this session.
Many of you are familiar with a bill co-sponsored last year, House Bill 2725, sometimes referred to as Joel's Law. It's so named for Joel Reuter, a mentally ill individual who was killed by police after he shot near them during Summer 2013. Joel's parents had been trying to get him committed but were ultimately unsuccessful. Had this bill passed, it would have allowed for an immediate family member or guardian to petition the court for review of a designated mental health professional's decision not to seek a person's detention under the Involuntary Treatment Act.
I'm running this bill again (House Bill 1258) and am hopeful we can pass it out of both chambers and deliver it to the governor for his signature. It's important we give families this option to help their loved ones who can't otherwise help themselves.
This bill received a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, and is moving onto the House Appropriations Committee. I'll keep you updated on the status of this bill throughout session, and I invite you to contact me with your feedback on this and other legislation.
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While I'm in Olympia for these next few months, I want to hear from you! Please call, write or email with ideas, questions, or if you need help navigating state government. It's an honor to serve you.