Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have a lot to catch up on since my last email update. On June 30, the Legislature passed a new two-year operating budget, and the governor signed it in time to avoid a government shutdown. The $43.7 billion spending plan was the result of long hours and hard work by budget- and education-funding negotiators. The budget provides necessary funding for K-12 education, health and human services, higher education, natural resources and state parks, as well as public safety.
“This year has been a challenge, but we were able to address many issues, including fully funding our schools. There remains some unfinished business – a fix to the Hirst decision and a capital budget, but there are many positive things we can point too, which I have outlined in this email update.
The two-year spending plan amounts to about $43.7 billion, of that $7.3 billion is invested into the state’s public education system over the next four years to address the state Supreme Court McCleary decision.
Not only does the operating budget include a historic level of funding for education, but it makes critical investments in children and family services. I was directly involved in these negotiations as the ranking Republican on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. We were able to provide a rate increase to childcare providers, invest in foster care and adoption support programs, and increase the staff and quality of care at our state mental health facilities.
We were able to fund these priorities without the tax increases that were on the negotiating table at the beginning of the legislative session. That means no capital gains income tax, carbon tax, or business and occupation tax increase on our service businesses.
To address the state Supreme Court McCleary decision the Legislature passed separate legislation from the operating budget. House Bill 2242 adequately addresses the court decision, and schools and taxpayers in the 13th District will benefit from the plan. Some of the highlights of the legislation include:
- increasing compensation by about $6 billion over four years so school districts can recruit and retain high-quality staff.
- continuing local control and flexibility by using the current K-12 funding model, but as a per pupil amount to increase transparency.
- implementing a new, more modern and uniform health benefit system modeled after the state employee health benefit system.
- addressing the reliance of the regressive local levy system by moving to a new structure increasing uniformity among school districts and taxpayers.
The chart below reflects projected changes in funding at school districts in the 13th District as a result of the policy changes in the McCleary legislation.
Department of Children, Youth and Families
The Legislature passed landmark legislation, House Bill 1661, in the final days of June, restructuring existing early learning, child welfare and juvenile justice agencies into a single department – the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Leading the negotiations on this issue for the caucus was a tough undertaking, but very important. I have an enthusiasm for children and the issues affecting our youth. While this legislation is not perfect, we must remember it is a work in progress. We will continue to make changes to this legislation. I believe moving it forward will allow us start establishing more accountability and transparency in our social services. It reduces the size of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and will help ensure children, youth and families receive the necessary prevention and intervention services.
The governor signs House Bill 1661, establishing a new Department of Children, Youth and Families, into law.
Foster care reform passes
Not only did we pass legislation to separate our youth and children’s services from DSHS, but we also passed a major piece of foster care legislation. Senate Bill 5890 will expand eligibility for college tuition for teenagers in foster care, increase funding for families who adopt teenagers, streamline foster care licensing for former foster parents in good standing, and develop a plan to provide support to foster families in crisis.
Governor signs foster care reform legislation into law.
Hirst Decision and capital budget
While we have accomplished many important things this session, the single-most important issue remains unresolved – addressing the state Supreme Court Hirst water ruling from last October. The court determined domestic wells could potentially harm water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act and, therefore, may not qualify for a permit exemption. The ruling jeopardizes development in rural Washington, but will affect everyone.
We had hoped to pass an agreed-upon solution when we were called back to Olympia for the final day of our third special session. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing day – no Hirst fix, no capital budget. We wanted to run a procedural motion to bring the Hirst fix legislation up for a vote. I believe the votes were there if we were just allowed to vote on the legislation – but the day’s legislative session was never brought to order. No roll call was taken and without the official roll call and start of floor action, we were unable to try and bring the bill up for a vote. The Senate passed the Hirst legislation four times, but we never got to vote on it in the House.
Restricting water availability will have a negative impact on real estate markets and property value across the state. Our construction industry will suffer. Folks who have saved and planned for their dream home on their own private property will not get the chance to live in their dream home. But the real issue in my mind is the government will still be able to build and grow and not worry about the water issue, but individual citizens will not be able to access water and realize their lifetime goals. We must find a reasonable solution to this serious problem.
As a result of the Hirst-fix failure, there will not be a capital budget, which will have an effect on school construction, mental health support and many other needed programs for our state. It was a disappointing end to the longest session in Washington state history. However, negotiators are still meeting and working on a water fix. Hopefully a solution in the near future will also lead to the passage of a capital budget.
The other factor coming to play that has made bipartisan negotiations difficult is the governor’s veto of a tax incentive for manufacturing companies when he signed the operating budget on June 30. The tax incentive would have given manufacturers the same B&O tax rate as Boeing. Manufacturing jobs are down considerably in Washington while other sectors have taken off. The hope was the tax incentive would bring good family-wage jobs to regions of Washington that are not seeing the economic success we are seeing in the Puget Sound.
Because the governor vetoed what was supposed to be part of an agreed upon budget plan, it has made the negotiation process more difficult for Hirst, and likely future agreement or negotiations on other significant legislation.
While we have officially been in session for 193 days, the longest legislative session in state history, my work as your state representative is not done. I represent you year-round. I am always traveling the 13th District meeting with local officials, educators and constituents. I am available to speak or meet with groups, organizations and tour schools or facilities. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a legislative issue or an idea, to set up a meeting.
It is an honor to serve as your representative.
13th Legislative District437 John L. O’Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7932 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000