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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Exactly one month from today, Jan. 12, the 2015 legislative session will begin. I wanted to take a moment to provide this update as we approach the holidays and prepare for the coming session.
Education funding will dominate the session
In September, the Washington State Supreme Court said that even though the Legislature had directed an additional $1 billion during the 2013 and 2014 sessions to K-12 education, it still had not done enough to meet the requirements of the McCleary decision. (Go here for background and a timeline of the McCleary decision.) The court said it wants to see an acceptable school-funding plan during the 2015 session.
Our challenge will be to provide a plan that meets the state's paramount duty to fund education in a manner that adheres to the state constitution and satisfies the requirements of the court. Funding education is a matter of priority. We need to fund it first before all other state programs.
The governor is saying the state needs to increase taxes by more than $1 billion to pay for “program enhancements.” While I know the challenge of increased education funding may be difficult, I believe we need to enter this legislative session with the goal of balancing the state budget within existing tax collections.
Did you know that Washington will have nearly $3 billion more in revenue this budget cycle compared to the last one? That's WITHOUT raising taxes. That's more than an 8 percent growth in revenue. Unfortunately, most people have not had the same increase in their paychecks and are still struggling.
We will begin the session with the additional burden of carryover expenses and the challenge of a voter-approved initiative to reduce class sizes that could prove to be very costly. As the ranking Republican of the House Finance Committee, I will be looking at all options to help us move forward with providing a balanced and sustainable budget. However, I also agree with the Senate Republicans' key budget negotiator, Sen. Andy Hill, who said during the Nov. 19 revenue forecast: “I'm the kind of guy who with toothpaste, I squeeze the tube as absolutely empty as I can get it. And then I cut it open and scrape out the rest. I think that's the way I would approach budgeting this year. Taxes should not be the first response – they should be the absolute last one.”
My 2015 session priorities
I'm not one to introduce a lengthy list of legislation. However, I do have a couple of concerns as we go into this legislative session that I'm hoping we can address.
- Port shipping slowdown – I share the frustration of many farmers, orchardists and local shippers about the slowdowns at the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and its employee union, the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have been in negotiations since May and the contract was up for renewal on July 1. PMA says union workers are slowing down shipping as a way to influence negotiations.Unfortunately, it doesn't just affect the two parties who are in negotiations. It is becoming an economic disaster for the rest of the state. Onions, fruit, hay and other perishable agricultural goods are arriving at the docks and rotting. A Seattle TV news report recently showed mountains of apples rotting in Eastern Washington fields because they cannot be shipped to their destinations due to the slowdown. No one knows how long this will continue. What I do know is we cannot allow this in the future, unless we want to put our state's economy at risk. So I'm looking into some options and inviting solutions for this coming session.
- Excessive public records requests – Washington's Public Records Act says government documents are available for anyone to scrutinize. But some people are asking way too much, flooding agencies with costly demands, and in some cases just to harass public officials. In one case, a convicted arsonist, who has little to do behind bars, filed more than 800 public-disclosure requests, which the law says county officials must honor.I recently had a meeting with some local county officials who told me they are considering changing the way they conduct business, such as doing most things over the phone, so they don't have to hire additional people just to fulfill excessive public records requests. I'm concerned these excessive requests may actually backfire and lead to less open and transparent government. Two years ago, I co-sponsored House Bill 1128 that would provide for a reasonable process of public records requests. The bill, however, was vehemently opposed by newspaper publishers across the state who felt it would restrict their access. This year, I'm hoping we can bring all stakeholders together to find a good compromise that ensures open government while reducing excessive public records requests.
Mark your calendar for a telephone town hall meeting
It's important for us as your state representatives to know your concerns and where you stand on the issues that face our state and the 16th District. That's why Rep. Maureen Walsh and I will be holding a telephone town hall meeting with 16th District citizens on Wednesday, Jan. 28, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. We want to hear from you! If you would like to participate, call us at (509) 885-9012. We will be taking your questions and providing an update of the legislative session. More details are to come as we get closer to the event.
As families gather for the holidays, I am reminded of the reason we go to Olympia each year during session – and that is to make our state a better place to live, work and raise our families. Thank you for your input and support over the past year as we work toward that goal. Please be sure to contact me any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. You'll find my contact information below.
As we close out this year and begin a new one, Jan and I want to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season.
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000