Friends and Neighbors,
Today is the 82nd day of the scheduled 105-day legislative session and we have yet to see any state operating budget proposals from the majority party. The current fiscal year's budget, which ends June 30, has not yet been balanced. We have not seen any plans to balance this budget and the majority party has not released a 2011-13 budget proposal. We now have only 23 days in which to vote on a final budget.
Even though the state's expected budget shortfall for the next biennium is around $5.1 billion, there is no good reason for the delay. We've known about $4.6 billion of that deficit since last November. The budget should have been written much earlier in the session and then adjusted to take into account the revenue drop from the March 17 forecast.
I am very concerned that, at a time when they claim the state doesn't have enough money to fund higher education, K-12 education, public safety, and social programs, that the majority party would risk spending more money to keep legislators in Olympia longer because they are divided over how to write a balanced budget. If we don't have the money to cover critical programs, we certainly don't have the money to UNNECESSARILY go into overtime.
Let's make the difficult decisions required and take action on a budget. Let's not make excuses for not getting it done within the allotted 105 days.
Below, I've provided information on several other developments in Olympia that affect our neighbors across the 18th District.
As always, I welcome your comments.
My apologies on the letter mix-up involving the Columbia River Crossing project
You may have seen this article in The Columbian yesterday regarding a letter I sent to the Clark County Commissioners in an effort to assure a countywide vote on the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. First, I want to apologize to all of you for an error made within my office. We should have ensured the county commissioners had received their letter before we sent it along to the constituent who requested we do so. I have apologized to the commissioners, but feel it is important to apologize to you as well. That error only allows those who disagree to focus on that and not on the real issue – making sure you have a voice in the CRC project. After all, you are the ones who will pay for it. And, that is all this is about. I am not wed to any particular proposal as to how we do it. The method I put forth just showed there were ways the county could conduct a countywide vote. And, if I could find a way, why couldn't they?
None of this would be necessary if the commissioners (all three of whom sit on the C-TRAN board) had not allowed C-TRAN back in 2005 to gerrymander their boundaries to exclude so many of you. If C-TRAN still allowed a countywide vote for funding, then the countywide vote would occur when C-TRAN requested the tax to pay for light rail. But, alas, the commissioners have allowed C-TRAN to exclude so many of you. And that's the reason why the commissioners need to find a way to include you in a countywide vote — because C-TRAN is no longer countywide.
I would also like to reassure you this was not a media stunt on our part. In fact, we never even contacted the media. That was done by Commissioner Steve Stuart. The intent of the letter was to gain you a countywide vote, not to get any media coverage for us.
Reconnecting Scott Avenue in Woodland
When Interstate 5 was constructed through Woodland, it cut across Scott Avenue, making dead ends on both sides of this local street. The main access to Woodland is very congested and difficult for local residents to get through. The Dike Access Road to the north is also congested and there's no easy way to expand that access due to the configuration of the freeway overpass and the railroad. The best way to relieve congestion is to reconnect Scott Avenue by building an I-5 overpass over this roadway. It would also make it easier for trucks to access the local industrial area.
When the House transportation budget proposal came to the floor for a vote on March 25, I offered an amendment that would have redirected $2 million of $25 million in federal funds from the Columbia River Crossing project to the I-5/Scott Avenue reconnection project.
When the chair of the House Transportation Committee said there's no money available to fund new projects in the transportation budget, I pointed out that if that's the case, we shouldn't be giving $25 million to the Columbi
a River Crossing project — if as she said, there's no money available.
Unfortunately, the amendment failed. Nevertheless, I will continue efforts to reconnect both sides of Woodland.
Orcutt bills move through Senate
I'm pleased to report progress on two of my prime-sponsored bills that have passed the House and are under consideration in the Senate.
House Bill 1239 – Allowing the Department of Revenue (DOR) to issue a notice of lien to secure payment of delinquent taxes in lieu of a warrant. This is often referred to as the “Catch 22” bill. If a contractor owes taxes and DOR places a lien on ALL their property (including business/home), the contractor is unable to get bonded and insured to do more work, and therefore has no means to pay the back taxes. My bill would allow DOR to place a lien on a specific piece of property, thereby freeing up the contractor to go through the licensing and bonding process, which, in turn, would allow them to secure work to pay the back taxes owed.
House Bill 1826 – Providing taxpayers additional appeals protections when values don't change. This bill would require the county board of equalization to waive the property tax valuation appeal deadline if a request is made within a reasonable time after the normal filing deadline if: the taxpayer's property was in the revaluation area, the taxpayer was not sent a property value change notice, and the property value did not change from the previous year.
House Bill 1239 and House Bill 1826 passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Both are now awaiting action by the full Senate chamber.
My primary goals
My two primary goals for this session remain:
- A balanced budget delivered on time; and
- Let's get Washington working again!