Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned earlier this month after a record 193 days in session. While we still have some unfinished business – a solution for the Hirst state Supreme Court decision and a capital budget – there were some successes this session.
On June 30, with a potential government shutdown looming, the Legislature passed a bipartisan operating budget, an education funding plan that addresses the McCleary court order and other priority legislation.
I supported the budget with its historic investments in K-12 and other priority areas. Highlights of the operating budget include:
- K-12 education spending represents more than 50 percent of the budget for the first time since the early 1980s;
- expanding STEM enrollments at UW and the Career and Technical Colleges (CTC’s);
- money for the State Need Grant to decrease the wait list by 875 students annually;
- providing a rate increase for our childcare and ECEAP providers;
- increasing the staff and quality of care at our state mental health facilities; and
- assuming a six percent reduction in agency management staff to reduce middle management and constrain government costs.
It should also be noted for what was not in the budget. Back in December when the governor came out with his budget proposal it included $7 billion worth of tax increases over the next two budget cycles. However, we were able to defeat the proposed new taxes on capital gains, carbon emissions, as well as a 20 percent increase in the state Business and Occupation (B&O) tax.
No budget is ever perfect, but given the closely split Legislature – a slim Democrat majority of 50-48 in the House and a Republican majority coalition of 25-24 in the Senate – there was a lot of good in the operating budget.
McCleary – education funding
Not only did I support the budget, but I voted for the proposal to restructure K-12 education funding and satisfy the McCleary order, House Bill 2242. I was part of the House Republican workgroup that has been working on McCleary for over a year.
Under the legislation we passed this session statewide property tax reforms will help provide $6 billion of new funding for Washington schools by 2021. I was also able to get language in the final plan regarding class size reduction and an auditing mechanism that will allow the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to audit school districts to ensure levy money is being spent on what it is intended for and not part of what is deemed “basic education.” The audit piece of the McCleary legislation is crucial as it will prevent similar litigation in the future and we can avoid a “McCleary 2.0” situation.
Schools, students and taxpayers in the 13th District will benefit from the education funding reforms. Here are a couple of examples from school districts in the 13th Legislative District:
Beginning in 2019, property owners can expect a $50-$10 annual net decrease in property tax payments. Concurrently, the Ellensburg School District will receive an additional $1 million of funding in 2018, $3 million in 2019 and $3.6 million in 2020.
Property owners can expect a $260 annual net decrease in property tax in 2019, $270 decrease in 2020 and $290 in 2021. The Moses Lake School District will see an additional $7 million of funding in 2018, $13 million in 2019 and $13.4 million in 2020.
Beginning in 2019, property owners can expect a $160 net decrease in their annual property tax payment. The Davenport School District will receive an additional $1 million of funding between 2019 and 2021.
This is a win-win solution. Our kids will have equal access to a quality education and property owners will finally see a more equitable tax rate. The legislation also increases:
- local control;
funding for vulnerable students and students with special needs;
funding for Career Technical Education (CTE);
starting salaries for new teachers; and
puts into place a new state employee health benefit system.
Given the magnitude and the extent of the details of this plan, we may need to make a few tweaks as we move forward, but it is a historic step in addressing our education funding needs.
Hirst decision/capital budget
We left Olympia without a very important piece of legislation being passed – a fix for the state Supreme Court Hirst decision. The ramifications of this court ruling will be devastating without legislation to fix their decision. It doesn’t matter if you own undeveloped rural property or you are an urban property owner with access to water, without a Hirst solution, all property owners will be affected and will pay the price in one form or another. Republicans have been committed to finding a solution. Unfortunately, the governor is putting the interests of environmental groups and some tribes over landowners and local jurisdictions across the state. With Hirst and the capital budget it has become politics over priorities.
The Senate passed Sen. Judy Warnick’s Hirst fix, Senate Bill 5239, four times. We could not get a vote in the House. I believe there is bipartisan support for a fix and it would pass, if we were just allowed to vote on it.
With no Hirst legislation there is no capital budget. We must ensure this critical property-rights issue gets resolved and the governor signs it before we can pass the capital budget. There is too much at stake. We cannot allow the courts to change how our water is accessed and controlled.
It is difficult to know if we will get called back to pass a capital budget and Hirst legislation in the future. Legislators are still negotiating.
In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me during the interim. I look forward to seeing you around the 13th District.