Friends and Neighbors,
The 2018 legislative session ended last Thursday night. Unless a special session is called, which seems unlikely, the Legislature won't convene again until January 2019.
The 60-day session produced mixed results. On one hand, the Legislature advanced bipartisan supplemental transportation and capital budgets that will support important projects and programs across our state. These budgets passed the House 96-1 and 96-2, respectively. State lawmakers also collaborated to pass several other bipartisan pieces of legislation that will be good for our state.
On the other hand, Republicans were largely shut out of the supplemental operating budget negotiations. With the Democrats now controlling both chambers, the budget process is theirs to control – and they did just that. I believe our state is better off when all four caucuses are involved in negotiations.
Over the last five years, with different parties controlling the House and Senate, we saw strong, bipartisan budgets that prioritized education, mental health and helping our most vulnerable. This year, we saw a near party-line vote on a final proposal that used a questionable accounting practice. I'll talk more about this below.
Hits of the 2018 legislative session
Major tax-increase proposals stopped. You would think with record tax collections that the calls for tax increases in the Legislature would have been muted. But that was not the case.
The governor and Senate Democrats pushed for a carbon/energy tax, passing it out of two Senate committees. The House Democrats again introduced a capital gains income tax and assumed it in their initial supplemental operating budget proposal. There was even a proposal, inspired by Seattle, to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.
I'm happy to report that all of these bills were defeated. My views on this are simple: Our state already takes enough of your money and has enough revenue to fund the priorities of state government. State lawmakers should spend more time trying to figure out how to use existing tax collections more effectively rather than trying to take more money from taxpayers.
A permanent Hirst solution. A state Supreme Court decision in October 2016, often referred to as the Hirst ruling, prevented many rural property owners across our state from accessing water from exempt wells. It caused great uncertainty for families, communities and local governments.
Republicans fought hard for a solution in 2017, but didn't get it. We continued this fight in 2018 and finally passed bipartisan legislation on January 18. The solution removed the obstacle created by the court and provided permanent, legal, reliable water to rural property owners in most of the state, including SW Washington.
Capital budget. The Legislature passed a regular and a supplemental capital budget this year. My seatmate, Rep. Richard DeBolt, played a lead role on both proposals as ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee.
Often called the state's construction budget, the capital budget provides important funding for projects and programs across our state. For example, this budget provided $948.8 million for the School Construction Assistance Program for school districts that passed local bond measures. It also included $10 million for Toledo High School as part of the Distressed Schools Grant, contingent on local funding.
The capital budget also provided $90.9 million for community-based mental health facilities, $64.3 million for institution-based mental health facilities, and $170 million for local and community projects (I provided a list of projects in the 20th District in my January 26 email update).
Transportation budget. In my last email update, I explained my role and the process for the supplemental transportation budget. I'm happy to report that a team consisting of members from all four caucuses put forth a final proposal that kept promises made to taxpayers to get projects done and addressed emergencies.
This budget provided $3 million for the I-5/Mellen Street Connector project, which will help foster economic development. This comes from savings realized on another project that I was able to capture for use to foster a needed economic development project.
Other local projects in the supplemental transportation budget include:
- $2.5 million for the permitting and construction of Bridge 12 on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Clark County.
- $125,000 to repair and protect Coal Creek Drive in Packwood.
- $550,000 to study I-5 from Mounts Rd to Exit 99.
- And a stakeholder group to discuss potential solutions to traffic management in Pierce and Thurston Counties in light of the crisis caused by the DuPont train derailment.
Misses of the 2018 legislative session
Supplemental operating budget. While there were certainly good things about this budget, including investments in our mental health system and programs to help address our state's opioid crisis, there are other parts that I have concerns with.
While this budget provides a one-time property tax reduction of $.30/$1000 of assessed value next year, I think committee chairs waited longer than necessary. The Legislature could have provided meaningful property tax relief this year had budget writers acted earlier in the session. I co-sponsored House Bill 2303, which would have accomplished this goal. Sen. John Braun co-sponsored the Senate companion. Both measures had bipartisan support.
This budget also relies on a new gimmick that diverts money away from the constitutionally protected Budget Stabilization Account (rainy-day fund). While this maneuver may not violate the law, I think Washingtonians deserve better accounting practices from their budget writers.
While the economy and state revenues are strong right now, we know that it's not a matter of if – but when – the next economic downturn happens. With the passage of the supplemental operating budget, our state spending has now increased by 16 percent compared to the 2015-17 operating budget. Is this sustainable? Probably not. Budget writers seem to be making the same mistakes they made in 2005-07 that left us ill-prepared for the Great Recession of 2008.
Changing the McCleary agreement. While some adjustments are needed, Senate Bills 6362 and 6241 will make substantial changes to the education reforms we passed last year with House Bill 2242. It's disappointing that the Legislature would begin to unwind these bipartisan McCleary reforms.
In-home caregivers. Senate Bill 6199 will force in-home caregivers to join a union and pay dues, even if they opted out before. Many of these caregivers are taking care of family members and have told state lawmakers they can't afford these dues.
Broadband. More could have been done to help bring broadband to underserved areas, including my House Bill 2312. Students and rural startup businesses need rural broadband to keep pace with those in urban areas. You can read my news release here.
B&O tax parity for manufacturing. There was no B&O tax parity provided to our manufacturing industry. This was passed by the Legislature last year, but vetoed by the governor. I co-sponsored this legislation to provide that needed parity.
Funding for school resource officers. There was no extra funding for school districts to hire school resource officers. I voted for this operating budget amendment on the House floor that would have provided this funding to help reduce school violence.
Staying in touch this interim
Even though the legislative session is over, please remember that I am your state representative year-round. My Legislative Assistant Tori and I stand ready to help and assist you. Please don't ever hesitate to contact us at email@example.com or (360) 786-7990.