After going into triple legislative overtime that totaled 176 days, the 2015 Legislature is finally adjourned for the year. Here are some highlights on what happened in the final days of session:
Legislature passes bipartisan operating budget
The Legislature had one major task this session, and that was to pass a 2015-17 operating budget. Despite needing three special sessions, lawmakers did agree on an investment plan that meets the state's four-year balanced budget requirement and makes improvements to a number of important programs and services. You can read my statement on the passage of the budget here.
Some of the budget highlights include:
- $1.3 billion for K-12 education — meets the state's constitutional obligation outlined in the state Supreme Court's McCleary ruling, fully funds all-day kindergarten, reduces K-3 class sizes and increases funds for school districts' materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOC).
- Gives teachers a voter-approved cost-of-living raise — an overall COLA of 3 percent in 2015-16 and 1.8 percent in 2016-17.
- Reduces college tuition at four-year and two-year institutions — 15 percent at UW and WSU, 20 percent at regional universities and 5 percent at community and technical colleges. This is good for students and middle-class families.
- Addresses court mandates regarding the state's mental health system — funds for increased civil and forensic capacity, and for the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team at Western State Hospital.
- Funds a number of social services — $6.4 million to reduce foster care caseloads, and improvements to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF and the State Food Program.
- And more!
What's important to note is this was all accomplished without major tax increases. An initial $1.5 billion tax proposal — which included a capital gains income tax, cap-and-trade, B&O surtax extension on service businesses, bottled water tax and more — was tabled. With $3.2 billion in new revenue coming in, there was no need for tax increases. A $38 billion operating budget free of major tax increases is a big win for Washington state taxpayers.
2015-17 capital budget funds important local projects
I was pleased to cast a 'yes' vote for the two-year capital budget this session as it funds several local projects that benefits students and seniors, businesses and others in our communities. Sen. Sheldon, Rep. MacEwen and I released a statement on our support for this budget you can read here.
These are some of the projects funded in the budget:
- $400,000 for the Shelton Senior Center
- $1.5 million for Shelton sewer rehabilitation
- $1.5 million for Belfair wastewater relief
- $750,000 for the Blackhills Community Soccer Complex
- $3 million for a new dormitory to house 50 students at the Washington Youth Academy in Bremerton
- Acreage purchases in Coulter Creek Park and salt-marsh habitat for the Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve, and other lands.
- $1.3 million for the Darlin Creek conservation and restoration project.
Gas-tax hike to hit Washingtonians August 1
During the final days of the third special session, I was disappointed to see a $16 billion transportation tax package pass the Legislature. It includes some good projects for our region, including the Belfair bypass we were promised in 2005, and has some good reforms for our state Department of Transportation, but in the end I voted 'no' due to some significant concerns.
The package raises the gas tax by 11.9 cents — the largest tax increase in state history. We will now have the second largest gas tax in the nation. In addition, while the reforms are a great first step, I can't justify sending more money to the state Department of Transportation after they've mismanaged a number of Seattle-based megaprojects (i.e. Big Bertha, SR 520 bridge pontoons, faulty ferries) in the past. We need more accountability at the Department and to ensure our gas-tax dollars are spent efficiently before we ask taxpayers for more money.
We need improvements to our infrastructure in order to help businesses and make commutes safer, but this package was not the right deal to accomplish these goals, especially when the people of the 35th District are disproportionately affected by the funding.
Nevertheless, the package did pass and some components will be phased in the next few months. It's important we fight to get the projects we were promised complete so we can address some of our local traffic issues.
The gas tax will go up 7 cents in August, and 4.9 cents July 1, 2016.
Being in a part-time legislature is a full-time job
Although session is over, please remember I represent you year-round. I encourage you to continue to reach out to me with questions, ideas or concerns you have. I'm also available to meet with you in district, and attend or speak at events. You can contact my office to set up appointments and share your points of view by using the contact information below.
It's an honor to serve you.