Friends and Neighbors,
The supplemental budget placed before us is supposed to close the books on the remainder of the fiscal year which ends June 30. Unfortunately, it bears too much resemblance to the House budget that passed earlier this session (which I also voted against) in that it continues to take money retroactively away from school districts who have already hired teachers in grades K-4; relies on budget gimmicks; and still only chips away at programs that we know have to be eliminated in order to fill the larger, $4.6 billion shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium. I am concerned that the budgets of 295 school districts are being put in jeopardy in order to balance our one budget. For these reasons, I had to oppose this budget.
A number of newspapers have editorialized what many citizens are thinking. Here's an excerpt from one:
“It's pretty obvious the legislature is not learning. They continue to try to spend what they don't have. And they continue to ignore us. We do not want to pay for any new licenses, permits, fees or taxes. How about the legislature try some common sense? Stop submitting new bills requiring spending until we have a better, stronger economy to pay for it. Stop finding new ways to extract money from us.” – Editorial, Everett Herald, 2/11/11
Jobs and the economy
On Feb. 9, a bipartisan effort was made to address the unemployment insurance (UI) tax increase on employers – a 36% average increase on top of last year's 42 percent hike ($364 million)! House Bill 1091 and Senate Bill 5135 both passed with unanimous support. While these bills are slightly different versions of UI tax adjustments, at least both were balanced approaches to help employers by keeping tax rates stable for now while giving unemployed Washingtonians an additional $25 per week in benefits.
Some UI facts to consider:
- Washington's UI system is 308 percent more costly than the national average;
- We have the second-richest benefits in the nation and the program is listed as a critical disadvantage to recruiting and retaining jobs in our state; and
- Without this agreement, another $366 million would have been taken from employers that could have been put to better use creating jobs for the 350,000 unemployed Washingtonians.
I supported both bills because something needed to be done right now for employers and citizens. However, my hope is that a bipartisan group can come together soon to put in place permanent solutions that address the cost of the system so that it is sustainable for years to come.
One of my bills (HB 1284) which would add a requirement to sexual health education to include elements of and consequences for conviction of sexual offenses where the victim is a minor, made it out of the House Education Committee yesterday and was heard in the House Education Appropriations Committee today. This bill simply says that if a school teaches sex education, the curriculum must include information on sexual offenses against minors. We've made our children aware of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, but they also need to be aware of the legal ramifications that can change their lives forever.
Interestingly, while working on this bill, it was discovered that the material is already being put together by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – it just hasn't been incorporated into the sex education curriculum. This bill will put the information being gathered to good use.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have on the issues before the Legislature. And please take a look at our upcoming 18th District Town Hall Meetings. I'd love to see you at the town hall most convenient for you.