Dear Friends and Neighbors,
If it seems like the Legislature has been in session constantly the last year or so, it's because this is the fifth Legislative Session in the last 14 months!
I was hoping and expecting that we could make some immediate headway toward a long-term budget solution within the first few days of the 2012 regular session. However, we're now half-way through the session and we haven't seen one budget proposal from the majority party in either the House or the Senate. For some in Olympia, there seems to be no urgency to fix out state's budget problem and implement policies to help create private-sector jobs in our state.
But I do have some good news – for the first time in state history, House Republicans introduced a complete K-12 education budget proposal, called “Fund Education First.”
Fund Education First
Our Fund Education First legislation, House Bill 2533, which I cosponsored, would require the Legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. We already do this for our state's transportation and capital budgets. If education is truly our state's highest priority – and I believe it is, and so does the state Supreme Court – then that should be reflected in our budget priorities. To read the press release that I sent out on this issue, click here.
Fund Education First Budget compared to Gov. Gregoire's fund education last proposal
But we didn't stop at just the policy level of REQUIRING an education budget first – we actually created a complete budget document – the first budget of any kind in the 2012 session. I wish we could compare our education budget proposal (HB 2770) with the official House or Senate education budget. But like I said earlier, they don't exist yet. Instead of working on the budget and finding ways to strengthen our economy, the Legislature has been holding public hearings on bills that would abolish the state's seldom-used death penalty, or one that would legalize the non-medicinal use of marijuana, or one that would make spitting or roller skating on a state ferry a misdemeanor. We've even had legislation to create a Washington State Bank. You heard me. Someone somewhere thinks that your tax dollars should be directly involved in the banking industry, including the very dangerous realm of home mortgages – with no idea where the initial money will come from to make the bank in the first place!
So, at this point, our only comparison is to Gov. Gregoire's budget proposal. If you recall, the governor's proposed supplemental operating budget recommends cutting K-12 education funding by $630.1 million and buying these and other cuts back through a three-year, 0.5 percent increase in the state sales tax rate. Our plan would allocate $13.66 billion to K-12 education. And, we would not raise taxes.
The governor's plan would cut levy equalization by $152 million and shorten the school year by four days to save $99 million. Our plan would prioritize and fully fund both of these areas. The governor would also make an apportionment shift to defer a $340 million payment into the future, while the House Republican education budget would prevent this accounting gimmick.
Our Fund Education First plan is the first step in rolling out our own budget plan to show how we can balance our budget, fully fund education and public safety, and protect the most vulnerable – all within existing revenues, which are expected to be about $2 billion higher than the last biennium.
Critical Access Hospitals
Another part of the governor's budget proposal that I strongly disagree with is her plan to slash funding for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH). These are hospitals that are usually in rural areas with older populations who have lower incomes. The end result would be devastating for many of the CAHs in our region.
As most of you know, there has been an enormous effort to redefine the traditional definition of marriage this year. I'm not sure I've seen a bill move through the Legislative process so fast. I know many of you have contacted my office on this issue – thank you! This is a sensitive and passionate issue for many, on both sides. The bill passed the Senate this week and will now work its way through the committee process in the House. Please know that I do not support this bill. I believe it has distracted legislators from getting to the real work of fixing our state's budget shortfall and getting people back to work. If and when it comes up for a vote in the state House of Representatives, I will be voting no.
As always, feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have. It is a pleasure serving you in Olympia.