Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned on Tuesday, March 29, after a 20-day special session. It was disappointing we couldn't reach an agreement in the 60-day regular session, but many are not aware of the dynamic we are working with in Olympia. The state House of Representatives is controlled by a slim Democrat majority, 50-48. The Senate is controlled by Republicans 25-23, and one Democrat actually caucuses with the Republicans. If you add it up, that is 73 Republicans, 73 Democrats, and one kind of in the middle. It doesn't get any closer than that. It is relevant to the recent challenging budget negotiations we have had – slim majorities in both chambers by different parties. It requires us to work together, and I think you will find in this update a number of successes we can point to this year and the last biennium.
There was no reason to go into a special session this year. It was only last July that we passed a $38 billion state operating budget after a 173-day, record-setting session. It was a strong, bipartisan budget that:
- invested an additional $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education;
- reduced class size in grades K-3;
- reduced the cost of tuition at the state's four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges, a huge win for students and middle-class families;
- makes significant investments in treatment and capacity for our mentally ill;
- increased funding for state parks; and
- accomplished these things with NO major taxes increases.
This was a supplemental budget year. Supplemental budgets 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. Unfortunately, the debate around the budget this year revolved around the House Democrats wanting to increase spending by:
- using a large piece of the rainy day fund for non-emergency spending;
- relying on tax increases, for even more spending;
- using a budget gimmick related to the McCleary education ruling for K-3 class size reductions; and
- ignoring our state's four-year budget outlook, a requirement recently approved by the voters.
None of these proposals were included in the final budget. However, additional spending was still a concern for me, so I voted “no” on this year's supplemental budget. Since last year our revenue forecast has declined and there seems to be some economic uncertainty. Our ending fund balance in the four-year outlook was only $9 million. I am very concerned about its sustainability and more roller coaster budgets.
This supplemental budget also continues to raid some of our dedicated accounts, including the Public Works Trust Fund, which is very important to our local governments. This must stop.
This year, despite the extra session to pass our supplemental plan, there were several accomplishments. For example, state lawmakers:
- Created a framework for K-12 education funding solutions;
- 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.
Governor vetoes 27 bills
During the last week of the session, 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 unnecessary and did nothing to help budget negotiations. Both parties expressed frustration with this move. He vetoed legislation that would have:
- removed obstacles for higher education students with disabilities;
- assisted the state Apple Commission to help promote the apple industry;
- promoted economic development;
- created jobs by authorizing the growing of industrial hemp;
- saved a committee to address the impacts of ocean acidification;
- reauthorized the Invasive Species Council account;
- reduced the costs of prescription drugs; and
- increased the availability of affordable housing.
It requires a lot of hard work to get legislation through the legislative process. It was disappointing and very unfortunate he chose this veto action instead of being more proactive in reaching a budget solution. However, on the last day of the special session the House and Senate voted to override his vetoes – on each and every bill. It was a historic event as only a handful of vetoes have ever been overridden.
The capital budget is where we address our infrastructure needs for schools, higher education institutions, prisons, as well as work with local governments and non-profits on infrastructure and long-term investments. In this year's supplemental capital budget we were able to secure:
- $209,000 for planning and design phase of the Chelan County Fire Emergency Operations Center;
- $1.1 million for the Pateros water system, damaged in the Methow Fire;
- $500,000 for the Twisp City Hall/Emergency Response Center; and
- $1 million to add more behavioral health beds in the region to address mental health needs.
Labor and Industries
You will recall after numerous complaints about the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries elevator inspection program (one of many problems in the agency), I introduced legislation to reign in this program. While the bill did not make it through the legislative process, it brought attention to the issue. We managed to put the whole program on review. The department will report back to us by the end of the year on how they will improve this program and make it more user-friendly.
I will continue to pursue all agencies who are not giving proper service to our constituents.
Thank you Sen. Parlette
This week, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette announced she is not running for re-election to the Senate, ending her 20 years of service in the Legislature on behalf of the 12th Legislative District. It has been an honor to serve alongside her. She has a long list of achievements and represented the constituency of our district very well. She will be missed.
In the 12th District
We have finished the legislative session, but please feel free to call on me this interim. I will be out and about in the 12th District as we have a very important interim. There will be many important issues before us next fall and leading into the 2017 session. I am interested to hear your ideas and concerns, or contact me if you need assistance dealing with a state government agency. I would enjoy the chance to hear from you by phone, email, or contact my district office to set up an appointment at 509-664-1274. I look forward to hearing from you.