Dear Friends and Neighbors,
For the first time since 2009, the state Legislature adjourned on time (March 13) with no plans for a special session. This is a win for taxpayers around the state as special sessions cost money that is better suited for K-12 education, higher education and public safety.
This year, those of us who wanted to hold the line on taxes prevailed once again. We also kept the state budget in balance, approved another small increase in support for K-12 education and held in-state tuition rates at the state-run colleges and universities steady for another year.
Due to election-year restrictions, this is the last e-mail update I can send you until Dec. 1. I appreciate you reading these updates and being involved in the legislative process.
The final bipartisan budget agreement that passed the Legislature was the first truly supplemental budget I've seen in years. The supplemental budget is NOT a time to rewrite the entire budget. It is specifically for addressing unforeseen circumstances in caseloads or revenue collections so that our budget remains balanced throughout the two-year biennium. In the past, lawmakers were either writing full-scale budgets during supplemental years to add programs and increase spending (during Gov. Gregoire's first years in office) because tax collections were high, or having to scale back the budget due to the recession when tax collections were low. This year, budget writers in both the House and Senate finally avoided both.
While it wasn't a perfect budget, in the end, I voted for it. It increased spending by less than 0.23 percent, mostly for maintenance issues. It included a little more for education and the McCleary decision ($58 million) and a little more for Opportunity Scholarships ($25 million). It keeps our promise to college students by freezing tuition rates for the entire 2015 school year and keeps a little more in reserves ($315 million) to protect against any downturn in our economy. It also does NOT rely on new or increased taxes, like the e-cig (vaping) tax that would quite literally destroy this industry. This onerous tax is something I've heard from many of you about and we worked hard to make sure that tax was not in the final budget.
One of the most important aspects about the budget is that is balanced out for four years! This is a new requirement based on a law that passed last year, something my colleagues in the House Republican Caucus and I have been advocating for years. In order to help avoid the “budget roller coaster” of the past, our state budget must now be projected to balance out in the next biennium as well as the current two-year budget cycle. This four-year budget requirement is a huge protection for taxpayers and overspending.
Building upon my efforts from last year to increase accountability and transparency in state agencies, the governor signed into law two more important bills. House Bill 2261 and House Bill 2262 specifically require the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Department of Ecology (DOE) to “show their work” by categorizing on their websites the sources of information relied upon in support of significant agency actions. The categories include:
- independently peer-reviewed by a third party;
- internally peer-reviewed by the agency staff;
- externally peer-reviewed by agency-selected persons;
- openly-reviewed documents whose review was not limited to invited organizations or individuals;
- legal and policy documents;
- data from primary research or monitoring activities that has not been otherwise peer-reviewed;
- records of the best professional judgment of agency employees and other individuals; and
- other sources of information.
For more information on these two bills, read my press release here.
I also sponsored legislation (HB 2112) that would help prevent Washington rate payers from paying twice for “clean energy .” My bill would have allowed some incremental electricity produced by efficiency improvements to hydro projects to qualify as an eligible renewable resource. It is my belief that the millions of Washingtonians who have already paid for these efficiency improvements to hydro projects should be able to see the benefits of those improvements.
Unfortunately, my bill and the Senate companion bill, SB 6058 sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown from Kennewick, did not pass the Legislature. We'll keep working this issue next year. To read my op-ed with Sen. Brown on this issue, click here.
During the interim
While the legislative session is over, my work as your representative in Olympia is not. My office is here to assist you in dealing with state agencies if you need it, or to help answer questions you may have about state laws or other issues. I'm also available to speak to your civic group (Kiwanis, Rotary, Chambers of Commerce, etc.), classrooms or church group. My continuing goal is to help bring state government closer to you. This is your government. I want to help you stay involved, active and influential. Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns. I'll do my best to work around my farming schedule to accommodate you.
Thank you for reading my e-newsletter and for the honor of serving you in Olympia.
427A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7908 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000