Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature ended the 2014 session on time, on March 13. Here is an overview of what we accomplished – and failed to accomplish.
Tax incentives for local jobs
When the Legislature held a special session last November to pass an incentive package for Boeing (to encourage the company to build the 777x plane in Washington), I and many of my colleagues voted “yes” with the understanding that we needed to do more to promote jobs in the rest of the state.
With that in mind, this year I introduced tax-incentive legislation designed to attract a helicopter equipment manufacturer to Southwest Washington. It was a bipartisan bill, and passed the House Technology and Economic Development, 17-1. Unfortunately, it then got “stuck” in the House Finance Committee and never got out.
It seems to be a basic matter of fairness that if we pass incentives for Puget Sound-area industries, we should do the same for the rest of Washington. Here in the 20th District we have much higher unemployment than in the Seattle area. People need, and want, jobs. The Legislature and the governor should work together to do whatever we can to encourage jobs and economic growth. Furthermore, we don't need expensive new highways or transit services to support job growth here like they do in Seattle.
Passage of job-enabling legislation will be one of my top priorities in the next legislative session.
A win for rural school districts
We won a partial victory this session for rural school districts that rely on timber payments for their funding.
Washington is the only state that reduces state funding for school districts by the amount they receive from timber harvests on federal forest lands. The legislation we passed changes that practice. Now, school districts will get a portion of federal payments in addition to state funding. I would have liked to have seen all of the funding restored, but this is a good start for our cash-strapped districts.
The governor is expected to sign this bill on Monday.
Big tax hikes stopped
Sometimes what doesn't happen during session is as important as what does. In January, Gov. Inslee proposed ending a series of tax exemptions (on bottled water, recycled fuel, janitorial services and other items) that would have raised taxes by $200 million. The majority party in the House supported the governor's plan and introduced legislation. I, however, opposed it.
Interestingly, the tax increases never came to the House floor for a vote. Even if they had, they would have been stopped by the bipartisan coalition in the state Senate. It was a win for Washington taxpayers, but also a reminder that we must be on guard against the constant efforts to raise your taxes.
Transportation: No tax package, concern about fees
Lawmakers did not agree on a transportation gas tax package this session. Despite pressure from the governor and others in his party, there was no way voters would have supported an 11.5 cent per-gallon tax increase and added fees.
You've probably heard about the huge problems the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has had on two Seattle-area mega-projects: more than $400 million in cost overruns on the State Route 520 bridge project, and a stuck tunnel-boring machine (nicknamed “Bertha”) on the SR 99 Viaduct replacement project. We need to see reforms in WSDOT, and proof that it is spending your tax dollars wisely, before we even think about asking you for more of your money.
Although there wasn't a tax package, the Legislature did approve a supplemental transportation budget that largely spent already-existing revenues. I supported some parts of the budget, but two items in it forced me to vote “no.”
First, the budget gave WSDOT an additional $172 million to cover the agency's cost overruns on the SR 520 bridge project. These cost overruns were due to a preventable mistake WSDOT made designing the new bridge pontoons. We set a cost cap for this project for a reason: to protect taxpayers. State agencies shouldn't be allowed to blow through their budgets and then come back to the Legislature for more. As a result of the mistakes on 520, funds from tolling on the bridge will be bonded longer, federal money spent, and proposed cost savings from other projects used. If not for the pontoon error – or lifting the cap on costs – these monies could have been used to fund new projects around the state.
Second, the supplemental transportation budget added $5 to vehicle registration fees and $12 to vehicle title fees when renewing at county auditor offices or through the state Department of Licensing. The money from these fee increases will pay for a third 144-car ferry. It didn't sit right with me that drivers should have to subsidize something most of them will never use.
That's just a few of the things done in the 2014 session. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, or if you need assistance with a state agency, please feel free to contact my office. We are available to help you year-round.