Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After a 105-day regular session, a 30-day special session, and well into a second special session…the Legislature has finally agreed on a final spending plan for 2013-15. While I am not happy with how long it took to come to an agreement, I am pleased to finally be able to lend my support to an operating budget that finally puts education first!
The compromise budget proposal includes over a billion dollars in new investments in K-12 education and gets us on the path of meeting our education funding goals mandated to us by the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. The new money is directed to where it will have the most immediate and long-lasting impact: pupil transportation, class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten (phased in starting with at-risk student populations) and materials, supplies and operating costs. The accompanying education reform legislation (SB 5946) allows for more flexibility with local levy dollars and includes outcome-based improvements that will increase student performance, support teachers and re-engage the most vulnerable students that need an extra boost to get back on track and achieve academic success.
It also DOES NOT INCLUDE TUITION INCREASES for our college and university students. Let me say that again: for the first time in nearly three decades, this budget does not include tuition increases. This is a welcome change from the double-digit increases in tuition we've seen in recent years.
The budget also does not rely upon the billion-dollar tax on employers that House Democrats originally proposed.
The budget agreement also does not rely on gimmicks, leaves more money in reserves than past budgets ($630 million in reserves for the 2013-15 budget with $577 million in the state's rainy day fund, and $1.3 billion in reserves for the 2015-17 budget with $914 million in the state's rainy day fund), and keeps our state's safety net for our most vulnerable populations intact.
However, this budget agreement was not perfect. There are things in this budget that I do not like. I don't like the $277 million sweep from the state Public Works Trust Fund that our local government rely upon. I don't like the fact that this budget doesn't contain long-term reforms (Workers' Comp, L&I, Pension) that would help keep our state off the budget rollercoaster in the future. I don't like the expansion of Medicaid which relies on the federal government to come through with additional funding for years to come – something many states and economists have serious concerns with.
But overall, I believe the positives outweighed the negatives. No, it's not a perfect budget. But it was a bipartisan effort that I believe was worthy of supporting.