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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In my last e-mail update on Monday, I highlighted that the 2015-17 operating budget had been passed and why I voted for it. This budget was signed into law on Tuesday night. That's the good news.
Unfortunately, there's some bad news. Due to some 11th-hour sabotage from Senate Democrats early Wednesday morning, the operating budget is now in jeopardy. The reason is Senate Democrats, despite an agreement, refused to provide the necessary votes on legislation what would suspend I-1351 (class-size reduction initiative). The agreed-upon bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support, needs 33 votes to pass out of the Senate. This requires some Senate Democrats to vote for it. The practical effect of this measure not passing is our operating budget will eventually be out of balance by $2 billion — threatening K-12 education funding, recently-enacted tuition reductions for students and our social safety nets. This is very unfortunate.
The bottom line is Senate Democrats went back on their word at the worst possible time. Handshakes should mean something in Olympia. The Senate Democrats broke trust, betrayed both Democrats and Republicans and, most importantly, jeopardized bipartisan state spending plans that are important to so many people and communities. I voted to suspend I-1351 because the operating budget includes $350 million for smaller class sizes for K-3, and the capital budget includes $200 million for new classrooms.
This editorial from The News Tribune, entitled “A monkey wrench from Olympia's Senate Democrats,” objectively explains what happened.
It now appears state lawmakers will be called back to Olympia next week, or the following week, to complete their unfinished business.
Transportation investment package
The Legislature passed a transportation investment package on June 30. Senate Bill 5987 is the funding mechanism for this package. It was a difficult decision for me because I know no one wants to pay more at the pump, but I voted for the bill because it will support critical infrastructure in our state. It will also fund important projects in the 16th District, including: US-12/Walla Walla corridor improvements, the I-82 West Richland – Red Mountain interchange; the Palouse rail loadout improvements; the Lewis Street Bridge in Pasco; and the 9th Street Plaza roundabout.
I respect the opinions of those who are not happy about a gas tax increase. In the end, I felt the package was a good deal for the communities that elected me to serve them. It is also vital for freight mobility and our trade-dependent economy. Washington state is uniquely positioned to compete in the global marketplace. Our farmers and businesses need a reliable state transportation system — especially into our ports.
The transportation investment package also prevents the governor from taking executive action on establishing a low carbon fuel standard that would drive up the cost of fuel. This is an important protection for consumers. We were also able to pass some transportation reforms that will help with cost containment and accountability.
Senate Bills 5988 (projects) and 5989 (bonds) are part of the unfinished business of the Legislature and will need to be voted on to move the final transportation investment package forward.
Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000