Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On Friday afternoon, the Legislature finally adjourned after 176 days of being in session. It's a relief to finally be done, and I'm looking forward to spending more time in district this summer and fall to meet with constituents. I firmly believe lawmakers could have been done at the end of the regular session in April, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and the majority parties reached an agreement. You can read more about what happened in the final days here.
Legislature passes bipartisan operating, capital budgets
Back in May, we heard the state was expecting more than $3 billion in revenue for this budget cycle compared to the last. This increase made tax increases unnecessary and caused an early proposal of $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes to disappear from the table. That's a huge success for Washington.
In addition to no broad-based tax increases, we were able to make significant investments in students and schools, mental health, child care and more in the 2015-17 operating budget. Here are some of the highlights:
- $1.3 billion in K-12 education to meet the state's McCleary obligation, including funding class size reductions and full-day kindergarten.
- Gives teachers an overdue cost-of-living raise.
- Improves mental health treatment and capacity.
- Reduces college tuition at two-year and four-year institutions (15% at research institutions, 20% at regional universities and 5% at CTCs).
- Provides $88.3 million in increased funding for in-home care providers and funds to meet staffing-level requirements for Residential Rehabilitation Centers.
- and more!
Lawmakers also passed the 2015-17 capital budget, which includes funding for the La Center Parks and Rec Community Center, the Washougal Waterfront Trail, and several other community projects. You can check the list out by visiting fiscal.wa.gov, clicking “Map Capital Projects” and selecting 18th Legislative District.
Gas tax to increase by 12 cents — largest increase in state history
Unfortunately, there is one bit of bad news that came out the final days of the Legislature's triple overtime. Legislators passed a 16-year, $16.8 billion transportation revenue package that includes a 12-cent gas tax increase as well as other fees. It's the largest gas tax hike in state history. The package does include some good projects for our region such as corridor improvements on SR 502 and I-5 to Battle Ground and SR 14 from Clark to Skamania counties, but a majority of the funds go toward Seattle-based projects.
I voted “no.” Not only can I not justify asking taxpayers to spend significantly more at the gas pumps, but I believe we need serious reforms at our state department of transportation. With major cost overruns with Big Bertha, failed pontoons on SR 520, and other blunders, we need stronger reforms at WSDOT before we entrust them with more taxpayers' dollars.
Moving forward with transportation, I'd like to see a pay-as-you-go approach rather than the uncertainty of our current system. I talk about this, and the transportation package as a whole during my floor speech that you can watch here.
On a personal level, this session was very successful. Three bills I prime sponsored were passed by both legislative chambers and signed into law:
- House Bill 1309 allows real estate brokers to sell floating homes.
- House Bill 1308 requires the tax on premiums for surplus line property be computed upon the entire premium where the risks covered are located within the U.S. It would also ensure no tax is required if the surplus line insurance covers risks outside the U.S.
- House Bill 1884 expands current law to allow the use of one-wheeled, self-balancing assistive mobility devices on sidewalks and in other public areas. Current law only covers the use of Segways, and other two-wheeled machines. This legislation updates the law and allows innovative one wheeled products to be used in public areas.
Additionally, I sponsored two bills that were companion legislation to proposals in the Senate. I was pleased to work with members in the Senate and the House of Representatives to push this legislation to the governor's desk.
Senate Bill 5280 authorizes the Liquor Control Board to allow the sale of beer and cider in a sanitary container brought to the premises by the purchaser, or provided by the licensee or manufacturer, and filled at the tap by the licensee at the time of sale. I greatly appreciate the signing of this legislation after working hard on this for two sessions.
Senate Bill 5353 allows distilleries and craft distilleries to sell their spirits at qualifying farmers' markets as well as other permitted events.
Additionally, I was entrusted with a new role this session as the ranking member of the House Committee for Business and Financial Services. I was honored to be selected for this position and enjoyed working respectfully and openly with all members of the committee.
On a final note, I had the honor of passing a House Resolution recognizing one of our community's brightest young stars, Nolan Henry from Union High School. Nolan won the 2014 National High School Heisman award and I want to offer him my best wishes as he continues his education at the University of Notre Dame.
Stay in touch this interim
Now that session if finally over, I plan to keep the momentum rolling. I am currently planning a tour of the ports, police and fire departments of the 18th District. I also look forward to meeting with you about issues important to you.
Please remember my district office in Battle Ground is open and my legislative assistant, Peter, is ready to assist you, answer your questions, and schedule appointments. If you want to meet with me in district, or have me attend or speak at an event, call my office at (360) 723-0704. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.