Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It took longer than any of us would've liked it to, but after 176 days and three special sessions, we were finally able to adjourn last week. Although we needed three special sessions, I am really proud of many of the things we were able to accomplish as a Legislature for the people of Washington state. My first session in Olympia truly exceeded my expectations. I made it my mission to build solid relationships with people on both sides of the aisle throughout the session, because I know how much we can do for our districts and the state when we put partisan politics aside. I look forward to continuing to build great relationships during the interim and into next session.
I want to provide a quick recap of the three major spending plans that were passed this session — the operating and capital budgets, and a transportation tax package.
The $38 billion 2015-17 operating budget passed on a strong bipartisan basis. The budget fully funds education, takes care of our most vulnerable citizens, and keeps our communities safe – all without any major tax increases. More than $1.3 billion will be invested into our K-12 education system, and K-3 class sizes will be reduced.
Additionally, our hardworking teachers and school employees are going to be receiving cost-of-living adjustments, while college students are going to see the first reduction in tuition in more than 30 years. Check out the Seattle Times graphic on the left to see how the tuition reduction we passed will help our college students and their families.
The budget also makes major investments in our early learning and mental health systems. Mental health reform became a big priority of mine during the session, so I'm thankful funding in this area is beginning to increase. We need to make sure we're taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.
Finally, I'm happy to report my House Bill 1526, which requires all aircraft excise tax revenue to be deposited in the aeronautics account, was included in the final operating budget. This was the first bill I dropped, and seeing it implemented in the operating budget was a great feeling.
Near the end of session, the Legislature also passed a $3.9 billion capital budget, which is used to fund long-term construction needs with long-term bonds and dedicated cash accounts. Thanks to the strong budget, nearly $100 million will be headed to Central Washington University for projects and renovations, including:
- $56 million to renovate and expand the Samuelson Union Building to serve as an integrated computer science technology center.
- $9.7 million for the minor works program, as well as preservation projects that will improve health, safety and code compliance, and preserve infrastructure and facilities.
- $8 million to replace or upgrade utilities that are 40-to-50 years old, which will bring significant savings in utility costs over the next 20 years.
- $5 million for renovations to Bouillon Hall.
- $4.3 million to design a health sciences facility to consolidate the Department of Nutrition, Exercise, and Health Sciences.
Big Bend Community College will also benefit from the capital budget. The college will receive funding to design a centralized state-of-the-art Professional Technical Education Center to provide flexible industry lab space for students.
Along with funds for CWU and BBCC, the capital budget provides funds for K-12 school construction, reduces K-3 class sizes, increases mental health bed capacity, prioritizes housing for veterans and other vulnerable individuals, offers mitigation for the current drought, funds fire hazard reduction efforts, and more. It is a good budget for our district and state, and I was proud to cast a “yes” vote in favor of it.
I could not, however, support the $16 billion transportation package that will increase the state's gas tax by 11.9 cents. Before the final vote, there was an amendment to put the gas-tax increase on the ballot, but that was defeated with a 52-46 vote.
While there are some good projects in the transportation package, including $58 million exclusively for the 13th (and $585 million for other projects that will effect the 13th), I could not cast a vote in favor it. The gas-tax increase is too large, and the package also includes increased weight and registration fees. Additionally, I was hoping for stronger Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reforms.
Legislation I introduced during session
Along with my House Bill 1526 that was implemented in the operating budget, two other bills of mine became law this session.
House Bill 1527 streamlines the ability for pesticide applicators to get recertification credits, which is a small but very important change to current law that will help the entire industry.
House Bill 1989 allows municipalities to contract for asset management services for their water storage assets, such as water tanks, towers, wells, meters and filters. I sponsored this bill on behalf of the city of Quincy, which had for a long time been seeking to procure long-term maintenance service contracts for their water storage assets. This legislation will not only provide more autonomy to cities like Quincy, but it will also save taxpayer dollars by allowing for long-term management agreements instead of simply contracting out for each individual service need.
Recent events in the 13th
On July 2, I attended a fundraiser in Ellensburg to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The WWP is a nationwide organization that serves our wounded veterans and their families in incredible ways. By 2017, more than 100,000 veterans will be assisted by the WWP.
The Pioneer Parade in Cle Elum on July 4 was a lot of fun. There aren't many things I enjoy more than celebrating our country with friends and family. We are truly blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world. Perhaps my favorite part of the July 4 parade was the water fight competition between the Cle Elum and Roslyn fire departments. Roslyn FD started off slow, but they sure picked it up by the end. The battle was well fought.
On July 7, I drove to the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River to take a tour of the facilities there. I was shown the dam's fish ladders and learned about the new innovative fish bypass system that was developed by the Grant County PUD engineers. Additionally, I was shown how the dam was repaired. The long-term project to replace the turbines and generators at the dam is still ongoing.
Last Thursday, I took a tour of the Perry Technical Institute in Yakima. PTI is a private, non-profit technical school offering 10 paths to successful careers. During the last 10 years, the school has seen its student body grow by 96 percent. Because of this growth, a new 38,000-square-foot building is currently being constructed to house their Instrumentation and Industrial Automation Technology program. The building will also allow for the expansion of the electrical, welding and machine programs at the school, as well as free up space for the addition of new training programs. The building (called Plath Hall) is set to be finished in August.
I am here to serve you year-round, so please continue to contact me with any questions, comments, or concerns you have. My contact information is below.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House.