Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session adjourned on March 10. However, the governor called a special session immediately after we adjourned because a budget agreement has not been reached. You will recall, last year we had a 173-day, record-setting session. There was no reason to go into a special session this year. We had to do one thing this session, pass a supplemental operating budget. A supplemental budget should not include major policy changes and large expenditures except for emergencies like wildfires and flooding, and unexpected shifts in entitlement programs, referred to as caseloads. It was only about 8 months ago that we passed a $38 billion state operating budget.
Initial House Democrat and Senate Republican supplemental operating budget proposals were very different. House Democrats spending plan was more of a negotiating tactic rather than a realistic budget proposal. It would have:
- raided the rainy day fund for non-emergency spending;
- relied on tax increases;
- relied on a budget gimmick related to the McCleary education ruling for K-3 class size reductions; and
- ignored our state's four-year budget outlook, a requirement recently approved by the voters.
We need to protect our rainy day fund, and budget for the future, while still planning to fully fund education per the McCleary decision. I am hopeful a final, negotiated budget will reflect those budget priorities.
Governor vetoes 27 bills
Last week, the governor threatened to veto legislation unless we could reach a budget agreement by the March 10 deadline. When an agreement was not reached, he vetoed 27 bills that had broad bipartisan support. The governor's actions were childish and unnecessary. His threat did nothing to help budget negotiations. Both parties have expressed their frustration with this move. He vetoed legislation that would have:
- removed obstacles for higher education students with disabilities;
- promoted economic development;
- created jobs by authorizing the growing of industrial help;
- saved a committee to address the impacts of ocean acidification;
- reauthorized the Invasive Species Council account;
- reduced the costs of prescription drugs;
- increased the availability of affordable housing; and
- assisted the state Apple Commission to help promote the apple industry.
Again, each bill means something to someone or some group. It requires a lot of hard work to get legislation through the legislative process. It is disappointing and very unfortunate he chose this veto action instead of being more proactive in reaching a budget solution.
The special session and governor's actions overshadow many of the successes this legislative session. There were several accomplishments the last 60 days. For example, state lawmakers:
- Created a framework for K-12 education funding solutions for next year;
- Saved public charter schools;
- Took steps to address the teacher shortage;
- Prioritized vision screening for students;
- Held the WSDOT secretary accountable;
- Provided Washington State Patrol with pay raises;
- Restricted the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals;
- Passed the Washington Cybercrime Act; and
- Created the Parent to Parent Program that connects parents of individuals with developmental disabilities with support and resources.
The Legislature did pass a supplemental transportation budget that provides an additional $416 million for capital projects and $61 million for operating programs, making the revised 2015-17 transportation budget $8.7 billion.
I voted against the budget. It uses federal funds to seek additional federal dollars for a road-user-charge pilot project or vehicle miles travelled charge. Last year the transportation budget included money for consultants and an advisory committee on the issue. I do not support this concept, and with the state using consultants, advisory committees, and searching for pilot project funding, I am concerned we may be heading down this path.
Visitors and interim
We had a lot of constituents and groups from district this session. It is always good to see friendly faces from home. We finished up the regular legislative session with our traditional visit from the Apple Blossom Royal Court. Once again our region and Apple Blossom Festival is well represented – Queen Kori Martin, Princess Emily Holmes and Princess Sami Everhart.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions on the budgets, the special session or any other state-related issue. My door is always open. Keep in mind, I do have a district office open during the interim. Call 509-664-1274 to schedule a meeting.
I am hopeful we will wrap up budget negotiations and the special session soon.