Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I want to thank those of you who were in attendance at my town halls in Port Orchard and Gig Harbor earlier this month. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to hear directly from you about the issues you're most concerned about.
As the session comes to a close, please continue calling and emailing with your thoughts, questions and concerns. I also encourage you to contact my legislative assistant, Aaron Hallenberg, to set up a time to meet with me in district. I will always make time to sit down with you.
Upcoming telephone town hall
If you weren't able to make it to either of my town halls, I invite you to join me for a live telephone town hall I'm hosting on Tuesday, March 13 from 6-7 p.m. During the hour-long call, I'll provide a very brief end-of-session update, and then spend the rest of the hour answering your questions. To participate, please call (253) 387-7963 and press the STAR (*) key on your telephone. If you would like to submit questions in advance, please send me an email.
An update on my bills
Unless deemed necessary to implement the budget, all bills that did not advance out of the chamber in which they were introduced are now considered “dead” for the year. Four of my bills survived cutoff this year, and were sent to the Senate. Of those four, the following bills are still alive:
Under House Bill 2585, hospitals that do not provide rape kit exams, or do not have a provider available, would be required to notify a survivor within two hours of their arrival to the hospital. Failure to do so would result in a civil penalty of $2,000. This bill is in the Senate Rules Committee.
Under House Bill 2684, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) would be required to coordinate with school districts to ensure a smooth transition when students in out-of-home care are required to change school districts. Unfortunately, the Department of Social and Health Services has often failed to provide a smooth transition for students, which has made many of their situations worse. This bill would provide a more thoughtful process under the purview of the DCYF, which would hopefully mark a turnaround in how we serve our students in out-of-home care going forward. This bill was unanimously approved by the Senate earlier today, and now heads to the governor's desk.
Supplemental budget proposals released
In short, 60-day sessions, one of our primary tasks is to pass supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets. The process for passing these budgets is as follows: the majority party in each chamber releases their respective proposals, which are then debated on the floor and voted on by all of the members. Once adopted, negotiators from all four caucuses come together to work out the differences and agree on a final budget. The final budget is then voted on in each chamber, and upon approval, sent to the governor's desk to either be signed into law, partially vetoed, or fully vetoed.
For the first time in five years, Democrats are in full control of the House, Senate and the governor's mansion, which means they write each of the proposed budgets. While there was broad bipartisan support for the House Democrats' transportation and capital budget proposals this week in the House, that was not the case for their operating budget proposal. And that's because they have proposed raiding the state's rainy day fund AND implementing a capital gains income tax to fund their priorities.
House Democrats say this new tax is necessary to provide property tax relief, but the fact is we can lower property taxes with the revenues we already have. The latest revenue forecast from state economists projects we'll see $1.3 billion more in tax revenue over the next four years than previously expected. That means we'll have $2.3 billion in reserves by June 30, 2021.
Taking $1 billion out of the state's rainy day fund and implementing a capital gains tax in hopes of replacing the revenue is not wise, nor is it fiscally responsible. The tax would have serious punitive consequences for small business owners in our state, and it would hurt our overall competitiveness in the global marketplace. Further, there's no doubt that once it's on the books, it will be expanded to more and more people the second lawmakers discover it isn't bringing in as much revenue as expected.
For these reasons, and many more, this tax should be the first thing taken off the table when budget negotiators meet next week. It is my sincere hope that happens.
Below are the key items in each budget proposal:
House Democrat supplemental operating budget:
- $1 billion from the state's rainy day fund to provide property tax relief.
- $446 million for public schools.
- $339 million for increased mental health treatment.
- $156 million to eliminate the State Need Grant waiting list.
- New capital gains income tax.
Senate Democrat supplemental operating budget:
- $1 billion to fully fund teacher and staff salaries in 2018, per the McCleary court order.
- $403 million from the state's rainy day fund to provide property tax relief.
- $300 million for increased mental health treatment.
- $40 million to fund 2,500 additional State Need Grant slots.
- No capital gains income tax.
As you can see, the two budget proposals address many of the same priorities. However, the Senate plan offers a much better starting point for negotiations because it doesn't take nearly as much out of the state's rainy day fund, nor does it rely on any tax increases.
Budget amendments adopted
Before we passed the supplemental operating budget on Monday, I introduced two amendments aimed at helping individuals with developmental disabilities. Both were adopted.
Amendment 1137 would provide funding for the enhancement of peer support programs for the parents of children with developmental disabilities, and for the establishment of new programs in Okanogan and Whitman counties.
Amendment 1138 would fund a phase-in of 380 clients to the Individual and Family Services waiver to increase access to respite care services within the Developmental Disabilities Administration by the end of the 2017-19 biennium.
While I don't believe either budget proposal adequately prioritizes funding to help our most vulnerable populations, I believe my amendments will do some good in both the short and long term for those with developmental disabilities.
I also introduced an amendment to the supplemental transportation budget, which we passed late Tuesday night.
Amendment 1075 would ensure reduced cost per transaction is at the top of the state's priority list when selecting a new tolling operator for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (TNB). As I said in my last update, the state is currently being charged nearly $1 per toll transaction on the TNB. I think we can easily reduce that by half, or potentially even more, and save the state some money.
I'm happy to say this amendment was also adopted. In other good news, the supplemental transportation budget will transfer $5 million to the Tacoma Narrows Toll Bridge Account to prevent tolls from increasing.
Sponsoring House page Thomas Bidewell
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sponsor South Kitsap High School student Thomas Bidewell, 16, as a page in the state House of Representatives.
Thomas is an AP student, an Honor Society member, and active in a number of clubs — Model United Nations Club, German Club, and Ceramics Club. He also plays on his school's varsity football team.
As part of his page duties for the week, Thomas learned to navigate the many buildings on the Capitol campus, delivered messages and documents to legislators and staff, and attended page school every day to understand the inner workings of the Legislature.
Thank you for your service to the House, Thomas!
As the 2018 session comes to a close, please continue contacting me with your thoughts, questions or concerns. I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible. My number is (360) 786-7802, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is an honor to serve you.