Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There's truth to the old saying, “Nothing looks better than Olympia in your rearview mirror.” After months of work, the 2015 Legislature finally adjourned with an agreed-upon budget. While I'm not happy that budget writers/negotiators took us all the way up to June 30th to finalize the state's 2015-17 spending plan, I am pleased that the final budget did NOT include a capital gains income tax, a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade scheme, a permanent B&O tax increase on service businesses or other major tax increases advocated by Gov. Jay Inslee and other Democrats in Olympia.
We said from day one the state should live within its means. With $3.2 billion more in tax collections expected during the next two-year budget cycle, House Republicans joined with Senate Republicans in holding the line on new and major tax increases. Essentially, that's what the multiple special sessions were about: holding the line on new and major taxes wanted by some Democrats in Olympia.
2015-17 bipartisan operating budget agreement
In the end, I voted for the compromise budget which received near unprecedented bipartisan support (the vote was 90-8, the most votes a two-year operating budget has received since the 93-1 vote in 1989). Here are a few highlights:
- Provides a 2015–17 operating budget of about $38 billion and meets the state's four-year balanced budget requirement.
- Invests about $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education to address growing school needs, meets the state's constitutional obligations, expands access to full-day kindergarten and decreases class sizes in grades K-3.
- Funds the Initiative 732 cost-of-living raise for teachers, plus funds for additional teacher compensation.
- Reduces the cost of tuition at the state's four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges, and increases funding for College Bound scholarships.
- Makes a major investment in early learning, including Early Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.
- Fully funds collective bargaining agreements for state employees and home care worker contracts and retirement benefits.
- Makes investments to address court-mandated fixes in the state's mental health system and increases funding for other important social services.
Increases funding for state parks.
- Funding sources include account transfers and a net increase in revenue from closing tax exemptions and extending some current exemptions that support needed jobs. Includes provision to expand Washington's ability to collect taxes from out-of-state entities that make sales within the state.
The budget also leaves ample money in reserves ($362 million) and in the state's Budget Stabilization Account (rainy day fund = $894 million) to help prevent future budget rollercoasters should our state economy suffer another downturn. Also, I think it's important to point out that the tuition reduction for college students is the first of its kind in the state and maybe the nation. Over the next two years students at these universities will save real money!
University of Washington = $1,611
Washington State University = $1,550
Western Washington University = $1,441
The Evergreen State College = $1,391
Central Washington University = $1,390
Eastern Washington University = $1,298
The passing of WSU President Elson Floyd
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of WSU President Elson Floyd. My condolences go out to his family and friends. The Cougars lost a leader with vision and passion, and the state lost one Higher Education's biggest advocates. If you'd like to watch TVW footage of the House honoring the life and service of President Floyd, click here.
I want to thank you for reading my updates from Olympia. I've heard from so many of you during the past few months via e-mail, letters, phone calls, and even the occasional chat at the grocery store or elsewhere in the district. Your involvement and input is absolutely crucial to helping me serve you better in the Legislature. Your continuing feedback and the dialogue we have helps guide my decisions as we work together to make Washington the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.