Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As you have likely heard by now, the Legislature is currently in a 30-day special session. Unfortunately, budget negotiators in the House and Senate were unable to come to an agreement on the two-year operating and capital budgets before the end of the regular session on April 23, so overtime is needed.
By all accounts, negotiators are close to agreeing on a final capital budget. However, two major issues continue to stall operating budget talks: taxes and K-12 education funding.
House Democrats are calling for $8 billion in tax increases over the next four years. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC), on the other hand, believes tax increases are unnecessary due to the strong revenue forecast we saw in March.
When it comes to the future of K-12 education funding, both sides have fundamentally different visions for our state going forward. While both plans provide billions in new K-12 spending, the SMCC's plan would reform our regressive levy system, replacing it with a flat, statewide local effort property tax. House Democrats have objected to this idea because those in property-rich areas would pay higher property taxes, while those in more rural, property-poorer areas of the state would see a decrease in their property taxes. The House Democrats' plan leaves the current system in place, which many believe could set us up for McCleary 2.0 in the future.
Talks will continue on these key issues and many others, but a compromise doesn't appear close at the moment. I will keep you updated on the status of negotiations as we move forward through this special session.
2017-19 capital budget
The $4 billion capital budget is the smallest of the three major budgets we pass each session, but the dollars it allocates are vital for development in our local communities. Capital budget funds are provided for the construction of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks, and other assets. I'm happy to report we were able to secure more than $30 million in funding for the 26th District in the 2017-19 House capital budget proposal. I'm continuing to work with Sen. Angel to ensure these projects receive funding in the final budget.
- Kopachuk State Park: $4,776,000
- Gig Harbor Sports Complex: $206,000
- Fox Island Emergency Prep: $17,000
- Minter Hatchery: $6,500,000
- Key Pen Elder Community: $515,000
- Longbranch Marina: $248,000
- Key Pen Civic Center: $60,000
- Downtown Pocket Park: $309,000
- Port Orchard Marina Breakwater: $258,000
- Ostrich Creek Culvert: $4,688,000
- Pine Basin Sewer: $3,881,000
- West Hills STEM Early Learning Center: $464,000
- Quincy Square: $250,000
- Holly Ridge Center: $176,000
- Admiral Theatre: $150,000
If you have any questions about these projects, please feel free to send me an email.
2017-19 transportation budget
While negotiations continue on the operating and capital budgets, the 2017-19 transportation budget passed easily in both chambers and is now on the governor's desk. Before we voted on the budget in the House, I introduced an amendment to require the Washington State Department of Transportation to conduct a study regarding the potential conversion of at least two of the toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to unstaffed toll booths. These booths would exclusively accept credit cards for toll payment, which could save the state $1.10 per transaction.
While I was hoping this policy would become law this session through House Bill 1443, which I introduced earlier in the year, I'm pleased my amendment was adopted. It just goes to show the benefit of working hard and establishing good relationships with legislators across the aisle. You can get so much more done when you put people before politics and expand your network to include members of the opposite party. I've made it a priority to do that, and will continue to do so for as long as I'm fortunate enough to serve as your state representative.
An update on House Bill 1314 and 1444
Earlier this month, two of my bills unanimously advanced out of the House and Senate.
House Bill 1314 will require the Washington State Health Care Authority to establish a fair and predictable process for Medicaid providers who are being audited. Over the past few years, aggressive auditing practices have caused many providers to discontinue accepting Medicaid patients. This bill will implement procedures to protect the integrity of the auditing process and better serve providers and the network of dentists in Washington state. It's currently on the governor's desk.
House Bill 1444 will require school districts to waive local graduation requirements and issue diplomas to qualifying students who enroll in three or more school districts throughout the year and still meet state graduation requirements. State law provides similar waivers for students of parents in the military.
Changing schools mid-year can present significant challenges for students trying to obtain enough credits for graduation. Students can have perfect attendance and excellent test scores, but still fail to graduate because of different local graduation requirements. This bill will help prevent these students from falling behind their peers because of circumstances outside of their control. I'm grateful for the unanimous support it received in both chambers, and look forward to seeing the positive change that will result from this new policy being implemented. House Bill 1444 was signed into law yesterday and will go into effect later this year.
Our broken foster care system needs reform
I recently wrote an op-ed for the Kitsap Sun about how our state must work to fix its broken foster care system. One of my greatest passions is working to ensure at-risk children are protected and given the opportunity to succeed. In the piece, I discuss my experience in foster care and how the lack of oversight and accountability at the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has harmed children and families. I also discuss some of the legislative solutions on the table this year, including House Bill 1661, which would move DSHS Children's Administration out of DSHS and merge it with the Department of Early Learning. This would create a system of checks and balances that doesn't currently exist within DSHS, the state's largest agency, and help reverse the culture of dysfunction in the foster care system. Another measure, Senate Bill 5890, would fund college tuition for teenagers in foster care, increase funding for families who adopt teenagers, fast track foster care licensure for former foster parents in good standing, and develop a plan to provide support to foster families in crisis.
These are good policies, but there is still so much more we can do on this issue. It's going to take continued hard work and dedication, but by working together, we can change a system that's failed so many and bring hope to those who need it most. If you've been thinking about becoming a foster parent, please call 1-888-KIDS-414 to learn more about how you can be part of the solution. We currently have a shortage of foster parents in Washington state, so we need your help. We will continue working to make progress on this issue in the Legislature, but you can make an immediate difference by providing a stable, loving home for a child.
Catching up with Mrs. Dahl
Last week, a group of students from Emerald Heights Elementary in Silverdale visited the Capitol. When I greeted the group, one of the teachers from the school came up and shook my hand. I thought she looked familiar, so I asked, “Are you Mrs. Dahl?” She said, “I am!”
Carol Dahl was one of my favorite teachers when I attended Tracyton Elementary School. It was great to see her, and I'm so glad she's still teaching and making a positive impact on children's lives. And she looks the exact same after 30 years! Thanks for all you do, Carol!
Top: With Mrs. Dahl at the Capitol
Bottom: Mrs. Dahl and my sister's 4th grade Tracyton Elementary School class
Please feel free to contact me anytime at (360) 786-7802 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My door is always open to hear what you think and to answer any questions you have.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House.