Friends and Neighbors,
We now have just over two weeks until the scheduled end of session on April 26. While we continue to consider and vote on legislation, lawmakers from the House and Senate are negotiating on the state operating budget. We must also pass a final capital and transportation budget. It is unclear — and, I believe, unlikely — that we will pass a transportation tax package with a gas-tax increase this year, but you never know until the session is gaveled to a final close.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus last week proposed its plan for the 2015-17 operating budget. It differs significantly from the budget proposed by the majority party in the House, which I described in my last update.
- It spends $1,000,000,000.00 ($1 billion) less than the House budget
- It does not include new taxes, although it does let 12 tax incentives expire. The House budget has $1,500,000,000.00 ($1.5 billion) in new and increased taxes.
- It reduces tuition at state colleges and universities by an average of 25 percent. The House budget freezes tuition but does not reduce it.
Despite some concerns, I believe the Senate plan is a more responsible and sustainable budget. I voted against the House majority party budget because it spends too much and taxes too much. With the state of Washington already projecting $3,900,000,000.00 ($3.9 billion) more in revenues than this time two years ago, there is no reason we can't make do with the tax dollars we already have.
This week budget negotiators from the House and Senate began working to reconcile the two budget proposals. In the two weeks we have left, all sides must reach an agreement so the Legislature can adjourn on time.
Yesterday the House approved a transportation budget. This is a budget that uses current revenues; it is not a new tax package. I voted for the budget because, although it contains some problematic items, it is generally a good budget.
For example, it includes $110 million in funding for fish passage barrier removal, which will help us address a lawsuit handed down against the state. It also includes $80 million to repair or replace structurally deficient bridges.
An area of concern, however, is the $17 million earmarked for King County Transit to mitigate the continued disruption caused by the Highway 99 tunnel project in Seattle. The tunneling machine, Bertha, has been stuck for a year and a half, and Seattle says it needs more money for buses. The original legislation authorizing the tunnel stated that Seattle would pay for any cost overruns, and I believe this is a cost overrun. I offered and passionately argued for an amendment to remove the $17 million from the budget, but my amendment was defeated.
Local pages serve in the Legislature
The page program is an excellent way for students to learn about and experience their state government first-hand. They spend a week at the state Capitol helping lawmakers and staff and studying the legislative process.
In the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of sponsoring more young people from the 20th District: Joshua Beddall of Rochester, Sydney Brooks of Morton, Emma Dobbs of Rochester and Jakob Wolfe of Rochester. They all did great work and provided valuable assistance as we work to make this state better for those we serve. If you're interested in the House page program, click here for more information.