Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This week was very busy as we got a first official look at both the House and Senate supplemental operating budget proposals (see below for more information). We split our time between committees and floor action this week, including some very late nights this as well as weekend committee work. With the regular session scheduled to end on Thursday, March 13, we still have a lot of work in front of us. However, I am very confident the Legislature can get its work done on time with no special session this year.
Telephone Town Hall
Thank you to all who participated in my telephone town hall this week. At one point we had 700 people on the line joining us in our community conversation. We were able to take 21 questions from listeners and had great participation as we discussed health care, the governor's suspension of the death penalty, a potential gas tax, the state budget, and how to help create more local jobs. Also, here are the results from our survey:
YES = 75.2%
NO = 24.8%
2) What is the number one problem that you, or someone you know, are experiencing with Obamacare?
Not able to keep my health insurance plan = 8.1%
Not able to keep my doctor = 7.4%
Had to switch health plans and am now paying more = 15.5%
Not enough options to choose from to fit my needs and budget = 7.4%
Problems with access to or delays with the state Healthplanfinder website or phone number = 2.7%
I've had no problems whatsoever = 18.9%
Does not apply to me = 39.9%
3) The state Supreme Court recently chastised the Legislature, saying lawmakers need to put more money into education and teacher salaries right away, despite the fact we spent over a billion dollars extra in K-12 education in last year's budget. Do you agree with the state Supreme Court's ruling?
YES = 13.6%
NO = 64.8%
NOT SURE = 21.6%
House/Senate supplemental budgets – closer than we've been before…
I was pleasantly surprised when House Democrats and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) released their supplemental operating budget proposals this week. While there are some differences, they are much closer than in years past. What this means – I hope – is that each chamber's “starting point” in negotiations is closer to the other. The SMCC budget passed out of the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 41-8. This is a huge step toward getting us out of Olympia on time this year. The House budget is expected to be passed off the floor early next week.
Both budgets are fairly prudent and for the most part seek to do what a supplemental budget is supposed to do – make the statutory changes needed to keep our budget balanced and to make adjustments for changes in caseloads. However, there are a few new things that were added in both budgets. I'll have more information for you once the negotiations are complete and we know more about what is in the final budget.
An interesting proposal came about this week that would allow for $700 million in bonds, backed by state Lottery revenue, for grants to school districts to construct classrooms for full-day kindergarten and K-3 class-size reduction. One of the things I hear from constituents all the time is “why doesn't the lottery money go toward education like we were told it would?” This proposal is an interesting way to make that change. One important aspect of the legislation (House Bill 2797), especially for rural areas, is that school districts would not be required to pass a local levy to match the construction funding. In addition to helping the state take another important step toward its McCleary obligations, it would also create jobs. The downside to this proposal is the debt service (paying back the bonds) that would be needed for years to come. The bill passed out of the House Capital Budget Committee and now awaits House floor action.
I'd like to know what you think? Shoot me an e-mail back and let me know if you think this is a good idea.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you in Olympia.