Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The longest single-year legislative session in our state's history came to a close last week. In many ways, this was a record-breaking session in which we made critical investments that will benefit Washingtonians for generations to come. We prioritized record revenue collections to fund education, support students and teachers, and support our disabled veterans while protecting the interests of taxpayers and promoting fiscal responsibility. The 2015-17 operating budget proves we can meet the needs of Washingtonians and live within our means.
Throughout the legislative session, we heard time and time again from the House majority party and governor we must tax capital gains income, carbon emissions, and bottled water to balance the budget. Six months later, I am proud to say we did the hard work of prioritizing spending and showed these taxes were unnecessary. Through true fiscal responsibility, we were able to make historic investments in education, reduce college tuition, fund teacher and state employee COLAs, increase funding for mental health services and protect the rainy day fund.
Operating budget overview
Here is a reminder of the tax increases proposed this year by the governor and House Democrats:
- A new capital gains income tax on individuals.
- Raises the business and occupation tax on:
- services people use, including accountants and tax preparers, car dealers, job counselors and many others that employ thousands of Washingtonians;
- prescription drug sellers, affecting prices on medications many rely on, including those on fixed incomes and the elderly;
- people earning income from copyrights and patents on products they created or developed.
- Internet sales tax on purchases made online from companies that don't have a physical presence in Washington like eBay and Etsy.
- Taxes the purchase of real estate foreclosures:
- this hurts those on a fixed income trying to stay in their homes
- Increases tax on extracted fuel and refineries at a time we should be improving domestic energy production:
- this hurts those who have to travel to find work and low-income families trying to heat their homes by increasing energy costs.
- Raises sales tax on out-of-state shoppers by making them file for an exemption, reducing competitiveness with neighboring states:
- This hurts border communities.
- Tax on bottled water purchases:
- This unfairly targets low and middle-income buyers who are dependent upon alternative sources of water; and
- most importantly, this was repealed by 60 percent of the voters through the initiative process the last time it was offered as a solution.
Ultimately, we passed a 2015-17 operating budget that benefits people in every corner of the state, including those in the 26th District. I supported the budget because it makes historic investments in basic education, reduces college tuition for the first time in history, funds teacher and state employee COLAs, and makes important investments in mental health services – all without raising taxes.
Here are a few highlights of the 2015-17 operating budget we passed:
- Invests an additional $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education and meets the state's constitutional obligations:
- $350 million to reduce K-3 class size, $180 million to expand full-day kindergarten, $740 million for materials, supplies, and operating costs.
- Fully funds the I-732 teacher COLA at maintenance level ($232 million for 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent) and provides an additional one-time COLA ($153 million for 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent) to provide an overall K-12 COLA of 3 percent and 1.8 percent;
- Reduces college tuition by 15 percent at research institutions such as WSU and UW, 20 percent at regional universities, and 5 percent at community and technical colleges (state need grant awards to private institutions are unaffected);
- No capital gains income tax, no carbon tax, no tax on bottled water, and no change to the non-resident sales tax exemption.
I am proud to say we stood up to the special interests demanding tax increases, and passed a balanced, sustainable and responsible budget that protects middle-class families, students, and small businesses. This budget is a win for Washington's future.
I also voted to support the 2015-17 capital budget that funds, without new taxes, several community projects in our district. Some of the projects funded include: Dekalb Pier in Port Orchard, improvements to the Key Peninsula Civic Center, improvements to Ancich Waterfront Park in Gig Harbor, significant funding for the Washington Military Department for projects in Kitsap and Pierce counties, and many others. You can find a full list of projects here. The Kitsap Sun also reported on our hard work in securing funding for these community projects.
I voted 'NO' on raising the gas tax. Here's why:
In the early morning hours of July 1 as many people back home slept, a nearly 12 cents-per-gallon gas-tax increase was passed by the Legislature. Throughout session, I heard from a great number of you and the overwhelming majority opposed this tax increase. I agreed, which is why I stood with you and was a resounding 'NO!' I spoke passionately, and with experience, about how a gas-tax increase affects people living in poverty and why I believe we needed to give the voters a chance to have their voice heard on this issue. Not only did I have concerns about the impacts this tax increase would have on families, I also believe it should have gone to the voters as a referendum on the ballot in November. An attempt to put it on the ballot was rejected in the House.
Improving transportation infrastructure, and project delivery has been a priority for me since I was sworn into office in 2014. We rely on our roadways to get from home to work, school, shopping, and recreation. Businesses rely on our roads to move goods and keep our economy growing. That's why it's imperative we have a state-of-the-art transportation system in Washington.
Some believe we needed to increase the gas tax to improve our transportation system, but I believe there is a better way. Any discussion about raising the gas tax must begin with reforming WSDOT. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I sat in hearing after hearing and listened to WSDOT misrepresent the status of “Big Bertha,” the SR 99 tunnel-boring machine currently out of service in Seattle. It is unacceptable to claim a project is 70 percent complete when only 10 percent of the work has been done. Add Bertha to the list of failures along with cracked pontoons on the 520 bridge, a fragile ferry system, and engineering errors on SR 16, and it's clear we need to change the culture at WSDOT. The reforms included in the gas-tax package do not go far enough in ensuring our tax dollars are spent efficiently and effectively. I will keep fighting to ensure state government is accountable and delivers the results tax payers deserve.
Also, as of July 1, tolls have increased on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Since coming to the Legislature last year, I have been committed to finding solutions to this problem. I have spent countless hours meeting with the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Transportation Commission, the Department of Transportation and my colleagues in the Legislature. It is abundantly clear that simply raising tolls every year will not solve the underlying debt problems. I have proposed multiple pieces of legislation to address the debt and toll increases and I will continue to work with everyone to find the best solutions.
We owe it to taxpayers to put all options on the table to ensure the tolls, and overall debt, on the bridge are effectively managed and reduced. My plan is a win for the state, private sector investors, and most importantly the people who rely on the bridge every day. Specifically, House Bills 2141, which reforms civil penalty collections by applying them directly to the bridge's debt, and 2142, which would permit the funds in the sufficient minimum balance (SMB) account to be used for debt reduction, are still in the works. Throughout the summer and fall, I will continue to be a strong advocate for reducing the debt on the bridge and controlling costs to improve the situation for toll payers.
While the legislative session has ended, please remember I'm your state representative year-round. I'm here to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government. Please contact my office to schedule a meeting, or if you would like me to attend or speak at an event. My office number is (360) 786-7964.