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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this e-mail finds you well.
It has been a busy interim. Since the legislative session ended in July, I've been meeting with constituents, talking with stakeholder groups and attending various meetings. I've also found time to travel with my wife and play some basketball and golf.
Looking ahead to the 2016 legislative session
With the 2015 legislative session in our rearview mirrors, it's now time to look ahead.
A controversial state Supreme Court ruling this summer is shaping the 2016 legislative session that begins on January 11. In a unanimous ruling on August 13, the court basically said it did not believe the recently passed 2015-17 operating budget meets the constitutional tests it set forth in prior McCleary rulings. It ordered sanctions of $100,000 per day, to be paid into a special account for basic education, until the state complies. The court also urged the governor to call the Legislature back into a special session.
Many of us were surprised by this ruling because the Legislature had just made historic investments in K-12 education, including new funding for: materials, supplies, and operating costs; smaller K-3 class sizes; and full-day kindergarten. State lawmakers also provided teachers with raises. However, all of these new investments were not enough for the court.
The governor did not end up calling a special session. However, a group of bipartisan state lawmakers continues to work on proposals for the 2016 legislative session. There are also public forums being held around the state to listen to ideas from education stakeholder groups and concerned citizens.
Since 2012, the court has said that funding basic education, including adequate teacher and educational staff compensation, with local levy dollars is a violation of Article IX of the state constitution because levies are dependent on voters and do not meet the criteria of a dependable and regular tax source. This has led to calls for levy reform.
Levy reform was discussed in my House Finance Committee meeting on October 20. This committee has a new chair, Rep. Kristine Lytton, who I work closely with as the ranking Republican. This recent meeting was informative, with great testimony, and revealed just how complex this issue is for state lawmakers.
One of my colleagues, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, wrote this opinion piece on levy reform that appeared in The News Tribune. He points out how our current local property tax system is regressive. Rep. Stokesbary advocates for a “levy swap” in which school district levies would be reduced while the state levy would be increased by an offsetting amount. The total tax collections would remain roughly equal, with the funding being collected and distributed at the state level. This would be one way to eliminate the wide fiscal disparities across schools districts that we see today.
You'll be hearing more about this issue in the months to come. When it's all said and done, our state needs a solution that provides for local control and ensures every child has an equal opportunity for an education — whether they live in Dayton or Bellevue. I invite your input.
State tax collections remain strong
I'm a member of the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, a group that studies and releases information on our state's tax collections and economy. In September, the council released a report that showed while state tax collections remain strong, there are some areas of concern in our economy. You can read my statement from the council's September 14 meeting here.
Staying in touch
I'll be heading back to Olympia Nov. 19-20 for Committee Assembly Days. If I can ever be of assistance, please don't hesitate to contact me.
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000