Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I wish I had better news to share with you. State lawmakers were supposed to finish their work on April 26 and conclude the 2015 legislative session. Instead, the Legislature adjourned two days early and the governor called for a special session to begin on April 29. This is a disappointing outcome. I am frustrated and I can understand if you are too. This will be the 11th special session in the last 10 years.
While there is still a lot of unfinished business, the special session essentially comes down to differences in approaches to the House and Senate operating budget proposals. The House Democrats are proposing $1.5 billion in tax increases and a 15 percent increase in state spending. The Senate Republicans feel the operating budget can be balanced without these tax increases and are proposing a smaller rate of growth for state spending. What does this mean in terms of real dollars? The House wants to spend $79.3 billion in the next two-year budget cycle, and the Senate wants to spend $77.8 billion.
Where there is some agreement
While the unresolved question on tax increases remains, it’s important to know the two chambers are proposing to make major investments in our schools — including reducing class sizes, increasing teacher pay and expanding all-day kindergarten. By now you have probably heard of the McCleary education funding lawsuit. The House and Senate are both recommending in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion to address this issue and satisfy the state Supreme Court’s expectations.
It’s not just K-12 education the House and Senate agree needs to be a priority. Both sides also want to make critical investments in higher education, mental health, early learning and public employees. You can find a side-by-side comparison of the two budget proposals here.
This means it’s just a matter of agreeing on an overall spending level, setting priorities and finalizing details. If 2015 ends up being like 2013, the final operating budget will be balanced and bipartisan. I expect the same outcomes for the capital and transportation budgets.
Progress in other areas
While major issues still need to be resolved, progress has been made in other areas. Nearly 300 bills have passed the Legislature and were sent to the governor. Some of these measures include: an early-action supplemental operating budget that addressed the Oso landslide, wildfires and mental health; reforming our state’s medical marijuana system; improving our mental health system; authorizing Washington State University to establish a medical school; strengthening data breach notification requirements; and enhancing oil transportation safety.
Public records requests
Another issue state lawmakers are looking at, although there has not been a lot of movement this year, is public records requests. Our state and local governments continue to search for a balance between accommodating legitimate public records requests in timely and efficient ways and dealing with unreasonable requests. I weigh in on this issue in this recent opinion piece.
Olympia is not all about hard-fought political battles and negotiations. When we complete our work each day, many of us come together to meet, have dinner and attend functions together. A small group of us, including legislative assistants, also get together each week to play basketball. As you may know, this sport is a passion of mine. TVW did a short segment on this group and our games. I’m thankful they included footage of me making — not missing — shots.