Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2015 legislative session is winding down to the final 10 days. Both the House Democrats and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus have passed their 2015-17 operating budget proposals. As I mentioned in my last update, the House plan relies on $1.5 billion in new and increased taxes. However, what they passed was a “wish list” of spending. They haven't yet taken a vote on the legislation containing the tax increases they need to fund their budget. To me, and many of my colleagues, this is disingenuous. Anybody can produce a wish list of wants – new programs, new ideas, new ways to spend taxpayer dollars. But until you have the votes necessary to implement the taxes into law, it's an incomplete budget.
Unfortunately, this reality is setting in for House Democrats as they try to negotiate with the Senate budget writers. Click here to read a Seattle Times article on this issue. To this point, the Senate has passed a complete budget – I may not agree with everything in their budget, or every aspect of the funding mechanisms within their budget – but at least it's complete. The House Democrats passed their wish list of spending without taking the votes on the taxes their budget requires. This is going to make negotiations between the two difficult.
Here's a quick chart that highlights some of the key differences between the two operating budget proposals:
If you want to watch a quick video of one my colleagues, Rep. Matt Manweller, explaining in detail why we don't need these tax increases, and what they would do, click here. Rep. Manweller is currently a Professor of Political Science at Central Washington University where he teaches Political Economy, Constitutional Law and classes for the William O. Douglas Honors College.
Capital and Transportation budgets
Still to be negotiated is the capital budget – the state's “bricks and mortar” budget – with construction projects around the state. And also the transportation budget. It's important to distinguish between the 2015-17 transportation budget, which pays for road maintenance, the state patrol, our state ferry system, etc., and any agreed upon transportation package. A transportation package would most likely include a gas tax increase (possibly up to 12 cents per gallon) which would then pay for new transportation projects around the state.
One of the major sticking points to any negotiated transportation package is Gov. Jay Inslee's continued threat of implementing a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) through executive order once the Legislature leaves town. A low carbon fuel standard could add immense new costs to the price of fuel. The governor's own Climate and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) last year estimated an LCFS would cost between $.45 to $1.17 per gallon..
With this potential cost increase hanging over the heads of consumers, many are finding it difficult to consider an increase in the gas tax. I'll keep you posted on any new developments on this issues over the next 10 days.
It's been a successful session for me. I'm pleased to tell you that three of my bills have passed both the House and Senate and are on the way to the governor for his signature.
House Bill 1145 allows two or more county legislative authorities to hold joint regular or special meetings in a participating county if the agenda item or the issue they're dealing with pertains to both counties. This is especially important to Benton and Franklin counties.
House Bill 1302 clarifies child abduction statutes in custody cases. It's a small but important fix that closes a dangerous loophole in the law. It will further protect children and victims of domestic violence abuse.
House Bill 1485 would expand the medical schools that participate in the Family Medicine Residency Network (FMRN) to include the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima and would also include future accredited medical schools. It would require the schools to prioritize future residencies for shortage areas and also re-establish the Family Medicine Education Advisory Board and has an accountability measure that requires regular reporting.
To watch my video update where I talk briefly about these three bills, click here.
It was great to have a visit from Honorary Pages Jacob and Megan Swenson, the grandchildren of my long-time Legislative Assistant Jan Swenson. Jan is the voice you hear if you call my Olympia or Richland office. She's been in the Legislature a long time and she helps keep my schedule on track and me out of too much trouble. A full time job, for sure! Thanks for all you do, Jan!
Thanks for taking the time to read my legislative update. I'll be planning a few more coffees once session is over. I hope you'll be able to attend one of these events as we discuss this session and other issues that are important to you.
It is a pleasure, a privilege and an honor to serve you in Olympia.