Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Due to election-year restrictions, today is the last day I can provide you with my e-newsletter update until December. I wanted to take a few moments to look back on the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions, and to encourage your continued input.
Better budgeting while protecting taxpayers
When I first ran for state representative in 2009, I felt we needed to budget better by making government live within its means, creating a healthy “rainy-day fund,” and ensuring fairness in our state's tax system.
We've come a long way since then and I'm pleased to say that many of these goals have been met, especially in the past two years.
We've implemented a four-year operating budget outlook, which helps the state better plan for future expenses. Even after appropriating $190 million from the state's rainy-day fund to pay for last year's wildfires, that account still has about $700 million to protect against future emergencies and economic downturns.
Last June, we adopted a $38.2 billion two-year state operating budget that increased funding to K-12 education by 19 percent. As much as 48 percent of the total state operating budget is now directed to K-12 education — the highest in 30 years. We increased teacher pay, lowered K-3 class sizes and reduced tuition at our state's colleges and universities.
This year, in the supplemental operating budget, we added $15 million for K-12, including $5 million to recruit and retain teachers, made investments in our state's mental health system, and increased assistance for long-term care services and for those with developmental disabilities.
We also provided pay raises for our Washington State Patrol troopers and saved public charter schools by funding them through the state's Opportunity Pathways account.
No major tax increases
Plus, the Legislature approved and the governor signed my two tax-fairness bills: House Bill 2539, which will ensure surviving heirs are no longer charged a real estate tax on their inherited property; and House Bill 2540, which will reduce the excessive 100 percent penalty against those who make a mistake on their tax form when reporting tax preferences received from the state.
While I'm pleased with the progress we have made, there are still challenges ahead.
McCleary – This year, the Legislature approved a measure setting out the course to address the remaining portions of the state Supreme Court's McCleary education funding requirements. Senate Bill 6195 requires legislative action by the end of the 2017 session to eliminate our dependency on local school levies for basic education. Realistically, that may include some type of levy reform, plus additional revenue to meet those requirements.
Economy and jobs – The February revenue forecast predicted a $442 million decline in expected revenue for the 2017-19 biennium. This again underscores the need for the Legislature to seek ways to improve our state's economy. While the unemployment rates for the 16th District average around 6.6 percent, 21 counties have unemployment rates of more than 7.1 percent. When people are working and businesses are successful, revenue is generated to pay for quality schools, public safety and other important needs. In the coming session, we will need to set funding priorities in the budget, avoid tax increases that could hurt our economy, and make government live within its means.
As the ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee and a member of the state's Revenue and Economic Forecast Council, I will continue to look for the best ways to keep your taxes low and fair, and to ensure policies that will help stimulate job creation and additional revenue for our state.
This is an election year, which means there are limits on how and when I can contact you. After this e-newsletter update, the soonest I can send another is just before the 2017 legislative session convenes. My seatmate, Rep. Maureen Walsh and I, are also mailing our 16th District Legislative Update newsletter to households. I am allowed to also send that mailing to you electronically, so be looking for it soon.
I work for you throughout the year. For your convenience, I have reopened my district office in Walla Walla. My legislative assistant, Meagan Allen, is happy to take your call. If you do write or email my office, please be clear that you would like to receive more information from me, as these election-year requirements restrict my ability to send unsolicited responses. You will find my contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!