Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With just a few days left until the end of the 2014 legislative session, I'm very hopeful the Legislature can get its work done and adjourn on time. There is no conceivable reason to waste further tax dollars on multiple special session.
Our chances of getting out on time were elevated recently when both the House and Senate released their budget proposals. While I could not lend my support to the House budget, the two sides are starting much closer together than in previous sessions. One reason for this is the legislation that we passed last year that requires a 4-year balanced budget. Not only does our budget have to balance this biennium, but it must be projected to balance four years from now. In my position on the House Appropriations Committee, I've seen firsthand the importance of this vital piece of legislation.
The House Democrat supplemental operating budget passed the House with a 53-44 vote. As opposed to the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus's (SMCC) budget, which passed in a bipartisan fashion 41-8, the House Democrat budget had no Republican votes. In fact, one House Democrat joined with us in opposing the House budget.
The House supplemental operating budget would increase state spending by $246 million in the two-year budget cycle. Of the $246 million increase, about $91 million is due to maintenance level changes while the rest is due to policy changes. However, the supplemental operating budget is supposed to be a midcourse adjustment to the 2013-15 operating budget, which passed last June, not another opportunity to significantly increase state spending. The SMCC supplemental budget spent less money, targeted it more specifically to education, and continues the higher education tuition freezes through the 2015 school year.
As we enter into the final few days of session, I'm hopeful that the final budget will keep in mind the taxpayers who work very hard to pay for state services.
Transportation/Gas Tax Update
One of the questions I get asked about the most is regarding the potential for a gas tax increase. With gas prices continuing to rise and our state economy still languishing, high fuel prices continue to be a burden on families and employers. The House Democrats and Senate Majority Coalition Caucus have put forward transportation tax proposals that would provide funding for new infrastructure, maintenance and preservation of existing infrastructure, ferries, transit, bike lanes, and the Washington State Patrol. A non-partisan research group provides a comparison of the two proposals here.
My views on this issue have not changed. I understand that our state has infrastructure needs. However, our state needs new reforms before new revenue is considered. There are too many ongoing, high-profile errors at WSDOT, which are wasting scarce gas-tax dollars, to have confidence in the system moving forward. For example, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program Expert Review Panel Report came out recently. As expected, it highlighted more WSDOT failures — a state agency under the governor's control. On page 35 of the report, it says:
“The ERP finds that the most important schedule-related risk item for the Project is with regard to effective partnership between WSDOT and STP: the entire WSDOT AWV Project Team must work in collaboration with STP and other stakeholders to get the TBM moving and progress tunnel excavation.”
Rough translation: One of the biggest risks is WSDOT's inability to get along with the group that is digging the tunnel.
My hydro bill is on its way to the governor…
Hydro power created in certain drainage pipes, irrigation canals and other water pipes would now be considered as 'green' energy under provisions of my bill, House Bill 2733, which passed both the House and Senate and is now awaiting the governor's signature. The idea is to recognize that water has multiple uses and any opportunity to capture and use potential energy from water should be utilized. My bill would allow small hydroelectric projects in irrigations canals to count as renewable energy under the Energy Independence Act, created by voters via I-937 in 2006.
This is an issue I've worked on for the past few years. It took some time to educate lawmakers in urban areas about both the need for this bill and how the process of capturing the energy from these projects works. I'm grateful for the support we received from ranchers, farmers, orchardists and landowners back home, as well as the support we received on the other side of the aisle. To read a short article on this bill, click here.
Today was “Navy Day” at the state Capitol. We were visited by several U.S. Navy sailors, commanders and admirals stationed here in Washington state. Their band played music on the House floor and again in the Rotunda. We spoke with several of them during our caucus meeting today where former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munroe received an award for his work here with the Navy in our state.
We also had the extreme honor to visit with U.S. Army Captain William Swenson (photo below right) recently. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan. John M. McHugh, secretary of the Army said:
“The Battle of Ganjgal was ferocious. And it was tragic. And we lost so many good lives that day. But following the violence, and the death, came inspiration. And we were inspired by those who fought there, by those who would not accept defeat.”
I'm so grateful for the men and women who sacrifice so much in their service to our country. Saying “Thank you” to members of the armed forces who visit us in Olympia doesn't seem like enough, but I am very honored to meet and thank them for their service.
I want to thank those of you who were able to attend one of our town hall meetings a couple of weeks ago. It was a pleasure to see so many engaged in their state government. I know some of you had questions or comments that we weren't able to get to. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or comments you have, or if you're having difficulty with a state agency. My office is always here to help you.