Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2019 session came to an end just before midnight on Sunday, April 28. The good news is that four of my prime-sponsored bills passed the Legislature and were signed into law. We also saw substantial investments in capital construction projects in the 26th District. The bad news is during the final three days of session, the majority party needlessly raised your taxes by more than $5.5 billion over the next four years.
Now that the dust has settled somewhat, I wanted to take a few minutes to provide this review and look back at the accomplishments and disappointments of the 105-days.
The 'hidden' operating budget sets up record spending
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee which decides fiscal matters relating to the state operating budget, I was disappointed that my fellow Republican colleagues and I were shut out of the budget negotiating process. Instead, majority Democrats in both the House and Senate made decisions behind closed doors of how to spend your tax money.
The process was so secretive that bills necessary to implement the budget were introduced only with a title, known as “title-only bills” or sometimes as “ghost bills,” because the language of the bill is missing. The language was later added without public review or input.
The first time anyone outside of the House/Senate majority party got to see the 808-page budget bill was on Saturday, April 27 — day 104 of the 105-day session — just one day before we were to vote on it.
On the House floor, I offered two amendments to the operating budget — one that was accepted, the other that was not.
- Amendment 471 would have provided nearly $253 million in additional funding for special education by removing the 13.5 percent cap on the percentage of special education students funded by the state (as originally proposed in House Bill 1910). I fought hard for this funding for our special education children, not only on the House floor, but during every chance I got in committee to offer this amendment. Unfortunately, it was rejected. I will push for this again next year.
- Amendment 472 provides an additional $5 million in grant funding to school districts for transportation of students who are homeless or in foster care. As someone who grew up in foster care, and as a foster care parent, I know how important these services are for our out-of-home care students. This amendment was adopted.
While I was able to get at least one amendment into the budget, overall, I could not support the final operating budget bill, primarily because it spends too much, saves too little, relies on enormous tax increases, and sets up our state for big problems if the economy turns.
The enacted 2019-21 operating budget that becomes effective July 1, 2019 spends $52.5 billion. That's an increase of $7.8 billion (17.5 percent) over the 2017-19 budget. Under this budget, state spending will have increased by $22 billion (70 percent) since 2013. I know of no one who could increase their own level of personal spending by that percentage without getting into deep financial trouble. It's just not sustainable, nor responsible, and so I voted no.
A weekend of major tax increases
To pay for this enormous spending, the majority party spent an entire weekend approving tax increases — many that were brought out for a vote in the middle of the night or early morning hours while most citizens are sleeping.
When the legislative session began in January, we learned the state had a $2.8 billion surplus. There was no need to raise taxes. but the following chart shows the Legislature approved numerous tax increases totaling more than $5.5 billion over the next four years. I voted no.
The tax increases – More information
For more information on the tax increases listed above, click on the following bill links:
- House Bill 2158 – Business and occupation tax on services
- Senate Bill 5998 – Graduated real estate excise tax
- House Bill 2167 – Business and occupation tax on banks
- Senate Bill 6016 – International investment management companies
- Senate Bill 5997 – Non-resident tax exemption
- Senate Bill 6004 – Travel agent tax increase
- Senate Bill 5313 – Local property taxes
- Senate Bill 5993 – Hazardous substance tax
The good news — Investments for the 26th District
In all fairness, there were good things funded in the operating budget, such as money to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits and investments in our state's mental health system.
The 26th District also did well in the capital construction budget.
The 2019-21 capital budget allocates just over $33 million for projects in the 26th District, including:
- $13 million for improvements and renovations at Olympic College.
- $3.3 million to demolish Buildings 6 and 7 and provide a new HVAC system at the Washington Veterans Home (Retsil).
- $1 million for the Key Peninsula Elder Community Mustard Seed Project.
- $800,000 for the McCormick Woods Sewer Lift.
- $500,000 for West Sound Tech in Bremerton
- $498,000 for a Splash Pad at Gateway Park, Key Peninsula.
- $180,000 for the Gig Harbor Food Bank.
For a full list of capital budget projects funded in the 26th, click here and select “26th Legislative District.”
We need a competitive ferry procurement process that ensures the best product at the best price
I am deeply disappointed with legislation this year that allows the Washington State Ferries to extend an existing contract with Vigor Industrial for an additional five contracts without putting those contracts out for a public bidding process.
Vigor is the company that built the Tokitae ferry. The Tokitae's first week of service was marred by a hydraulic leak and a design flaw that caused cars to scrape against the car ramps. Less than a year after it went into service, the Tokitae lost one of its engines and went dead in the water for an hour. In its first 13 months of service, it lost propulsion a total of 18 times, causing passengers to say, “If there's a delay, it's probably the Tokitae.”
A study by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC) showed the state paid nearly double of what it should for the Tokitae. Much of the problem is that we're not putting these contracts out for competitive bid. One company is getting all of these projects.
During debate on House Bill 2161, which extends the Vigor contract, I noted that “we're not only paying too much for these ferries, but basically, we are getting a Walmart product for a Nordstrom price!” Watch my floor speech here.
We tried to add an amendment to the bill to have the contracts put out for competitive bids, but it was rejected.
The new transportation budget includes $187 million to pay for a new 144-car hybrid-electric ferry, which under these contracts would likely be done by Vigor, even though we are told the company has never designed such a system and has no experience with this technology.
This is part of the reason I voted against the transportation budget and opposed House Bill 2161.
More good news: Four Caldier bills become law
I'm very pleased to report that four of the bills I prime-sponsored passed the Legislature during the 2019 session and were signed into law by the governor.
- House Bill 1016 – Hospital notification of sexual assault evidence kit collection: This bill requires hospitals to notify a rape victim within two hours of their arrival that they don't have rape kits or a provider trained in sexual assault examinations on the premises. This bill was originally introduced in 2018 after a young woman was raped and sat for hours at a local hospital before being told rape kit exams were not performed there, and that she would have to go to a different hospital for assistance. The legislation which passed the House this year included $2,000 penalties for hospitals that fail to comply. Unfortunately, those penalties were removed in the Senate, despite a valiant effort by my seatmate, Sen. Emily Randall, to keep them intact. The amended bill requires individuals to be notified by the hospital they can file a complaint with the Department of Health if the hospital exceeds the two-hour rape kit notification rule. It also requires hospitals that do not provide rape kits to develop a plan by July 1, 2020 to assist victims in finding a facility with appropriate providers available. Read more about this bill here.
- House Bill 1198 – Health care provider sexual misconduct notification: This bill requires that a health care provider who has been sanctioned by a disciplinary authority due to unprofessional actions involving sexual misconduct, must provide a disclosure to any patient scheduled for an appointment. This is about protecting patients and providing full disclosure. Read more about this bill here.
- House Bill 1607 – Notice of operational changes/mergers in the health care marketplace: This bill requires a written notice be given to the state attorney general at least 60 days before the effective date of a hospital or provider organization acquisition or merger. The measure grew out of the merger and acquisitions in 2016 involving CHI Franciscan, The Doctors Clinic and WestSound Orthopaedics in Kitsap County. That merger created a monopoly that eliminated competition, allowing rates to be jacked up. When that happened, I notified Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the Tacoma-based non-profit health system in 2017. CHI Franciscan recently settled the suit. You can read more about the settlement here.
- House Bill 1934 – Concealed weapons permit renewal by armed forces members: This measure allows out-of-state military members who are Washington residents to remotely renew their concealed weapons permits without having to come back to our state to do so. It's a small step to help our military men and women who are residents of Washington, but are serving our country elsewhere. Read more about this bill here.
I work for you throughout the year
Although the 2019 legislative session is now in the history books, I continue to work for you as your state representative throughout the year. I maintain an office at the Capitol building in Olympia and encourage you to call, write, or email me any time you have questions, comments, concerns or ideas about state government. I'm here to help. I'm also available to speak to local groups and am happy to meet with you about state government issues. My contact information is below.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve and represent you!