I'm happy to share that after a record 172 days of session, the Legislature finally passed a compromise budget. The two-year, $43.7 billion budget makes a number of critical investments, but perhaps the most important is the historic funding directed toward K-12 education. For the first time since the 1980s, K-12 education makes up more than 50 percent of the budget.
In addition to historic education investments, the budget:
- aids those providing necessary services to our most vulnerable populations;
- makes crucial investments in mental health that will help transition less-acute individuals out of state hospitals, which will help increase the availability of services for forensic patients; and
- improves the foster care system by enhancing respite care and providing additional options for children who are hardest to place.
Despite the budget passing and being signed into law, the Legislature is still embroiled in it's third special session of the year. Two major items remain on the table — a Hirst fix and a new capital budget. More about those below.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment this year has been the passage of House Bill 2242, which fulfills our constitutional obligation according to the high court's 2012 McCleary decision and fully funds K-12 education. A major component of that decision was ending the state's overreliance on local levies and to instead rely on a stable funding source. House Bill 2242 does that. The governor himself agreed, saying it “fully funds our schools for the first time in decades and will meet our constitutional obligations.”
Some of the highlights of House Bill 2242 include:
- increased state-funded compensation by $6 billion over four years to equip school districts with resources to recruit and retain quality staff and provide students with an equitable education program;
- minimum and maximum salary levels to ensure funding is distributed for teachers in all district at all levels of experience;
- an automatic, annual COLA, keeping state salary allocations in pace with inflation;
- a reduction in the variation of teacher salaries in order to prevent teacher migration from poor districts to wealthy districts;
- ensuring equity for students and taxpayers by capping local levy rates to provide relief to taxpayers in property-poor districts while also providing a per-pupil enrichment cap that will increase uniformity in extracurricular options for students; and
- a vigorous reporting and accounting system to ensure separation and tracking of revenues, thus providing transparency in both state funding and local decision-making and to prevent unconstitutional overreliance on local levies.
What does all of this mean for residents of the 35th District? Since the Legislature voted to extend the current levy policy through 2018 earlier this year, every household will see an increase in property taxes beginning next year. However, between 2019 and 2021, many will see property tax reductions. Despite those tax cuts, our school districts will see an influx of funding, which will hopefully lead to improved student outcomes.
Originally, the budget also provided for a new tax preference to help stimulate job growth in manufacturing. Part of the overall budget agreement, Senate Bill 5977 would have reduced the B&O tax on manufacturers to match the rate paid by The Boeing Company and other aerospace firms. Not only are other manufacturers throughout the state at a competitive disadvantage now, but Boeing's preferential tax treatment is at the heart of ongoing World Trade Organization dispute resolution concerning state subsidies between the Seattle aerospace company and Airbus. Not only would Senate Bill 5977 have eliminated the preferential rate in question, but it would have spurred job growth in a currently struggling sector of our state's economy.
Since 2000, employment in manufacturing has been on the decline while other sectors have seen a steady increase. In fact, roughly 51,600 manufacturing jobs have been lost in nearly two decades. These are good-paying jobs. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, those employed in Washington's manufacturing sector earn an average annual salary of nearly $87,000.
I enthusiastically voted for the bill, and it's passage was a major reason why I supported the budget. And given the strong bipartisan nature of the agreement — the bill passed 83-10 in the House and 33-16 in the Senate — I hoped, like many of my colleagues, this important, job-stimulating measure would be included in the final budget signed into law.
Instead, on Friday the governor partially vetoed the bill, pulling the plug on the economic opportunities that could have come as a result of this legislation. It's like when Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown right as he is about to kick it, sending good ol' Chuck yelping in the air before landing back-first on the field. Sadly, the Charlie Brown in this scenario are small- and medium-sized manufacturers who will continue to struggle in today's economy.
The governor's actions are frustrating and have led some supportive of Senate 5977 to call for the state Legislature to overturn the veto.
There are a number of items left on the table legislators need to deal with this year. One of those is the Hirst decision, which refers to a controversial and disappointing state Supreme Court ruling last October that effectively jeopardized development in rural Washington. In the case, the court determined domestic wells could potentially harm water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act and, therefore, may not qualify for a permit exemption. While the case originated in Whatcom County, it has far-reaching implications for all of Washington. Not only will rural communities suffer, but cities will be affected, too. As property values decline in rural areas, urban Washington will be forced to take care of the bill.
There were a few bills introduced this year that would have addressed Hirst in one way or another. Senate Bill 5239 was considered the 'Hirst fix' bill by many, and it would have taken us back to the days prior to the Hirst decision and placed the onus of determining water impairment back on the Department of Ecology. Sadly, Senate Bill 5239 never advanced in the House. A Hirst negotiating team has been assembled to continue working on this problem during special sessions.
The other major item left on the table is the capital budget. Sometimes referred to as the 'brick and mortar budget,' the capital budget funds infrastructure and construction projects throughout the state. Negotiations on this budget reached a standstill at the end of the regular session in April when Senate Capital Budget Committee Chair Jim Honeyford said negotiations couldn't continue until a solution to the Hirst decision was in place. Bottom line is property owners need a solution to this devastating court ruling. While there are a number of important projects in the capital budget I'd like to see funded, ensuring development can continue throughout the state must take priority.
My bill to help keep marijuana products and paraphernalia out of the hands of children was signed into law. The law will allow retail marijuana outlets to provide lockable drug boxes at no charge to customers and qualifying patients.
Unfortunately, there have been a handful of incidents where children have accidentally ingested marijuana-infused products, forcing them to pay a visit to the hospital. In 2015, the Washington Poison Center received 272 calls related to marijuana exposure and poisonings. Of those exposures, 46 percent involved persons 19 years and younger.
You can read more about the bill in this The News Tribune article, here.
As a member of the Correctional Industries Advisory Committee, I sought this session to work on legislation that would help reduce recidivism and keep communities safe by helping former inmates make positive contributions to society. My House Bill 1248, which has been signed into law, will help provide inmates with marketable skills to enter the workforce upon reentry, thereby reducing recidivism.
Specifically, my bill enables the Correctional Industries (CI) division of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide Class I industries work programs by aligning Washington statute with federal regulations. Class I allows CI to contract with private companies to operate their businesses inside Washington's correctional facilities. The last time Class 1 industries operated in Washington was in 2004, before the state Supreme Court ruled Class I partnerships unconstitutional.
Currently, CI provides inmate work programs throughout Washington's facilities, allowing inmates to gain work experience and earn comparable wages to what would be paid if they were employed in the community. CI employs roughly 2,700 offenders annually and of those released, 51 percent achieve employment. A study conducted by Washington State University determined inmates who participate in CI programs are significantly less likely to reoffend.
The vocational training and soft skills correctional industries provide inmates makes a world of difference in the types of community members they become upon release. Correctional industries are evidence-based and provide inmates the tools they need to become productive members of society, reducing the likelihood of them reoffending and further burdening or harming our communities.
Prior to the start of the legislative session, I was contacted by Belfair Faith In Action, a nonprofit organization that failed to qualify for a property tax exemption. Those living in Belfair may know about their HUB Center, which serves as a multipurpose center catering to Mason County seniors. Most senior centers operated by the state and local governments are currently exempt from property taxes. Nonprofit organizations, including senior centers, may also qualify for these property tax exemptions so long as they do not host too many nonexempt activities, one of which is a farmers market.
Therein lied the problem. Belfair Faith In Action raised money for the past seven years to build a HUB Center that hosts various activities for seniors. Prior to construction, they were told they would receive a property tax exemption so long as the center kept to the organization's mission. The facility they built, which also hosts a local farmers market, was denied an exemption because the facility held too many retail activities.
I sponsored a bill, House 1526, that would allow nonprofit senior centers like the HUB Center to qualify for property tax exemptions. The bill was signed into law in May.
Thank you to everyone who has kept in touch throughout the legislative session. Your comments and ideas are what inform the decisions I make on your behalf. Representing you is one of the greatest honors, so it means a lot to me when people back home take time to reach out.
Whether I'm in session or back home, I encourage you to continue emailing, calling or writing to me. You can also schedule a time to meet with me in person by contacting my office at (360) 786-7966 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again! It's a privilege representing you.