Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The scheduled 60-day legislative session ended on March 8. For the first time since 2014, we adjourned on schedule. In this email update, I will be sharing some of the highlights and disappointments of this intense and challenging session.
A big town hall “thank you!”
Before we get started, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who participated in the recent 17th District town hall co-hosted by Sen. Lynda Wilson, Rep. Paul Harris and myself. We talked about a full range of public policy topics, including property tax relief, capital gains income tax and the governor's carbon tax proposal.
The discussion was lively, informative and interactive. School safety was on everybody's minds as several participants shared their viewpoints on the best way to approach this issue. Our children, families and schools deserve protection. More on each of these topics are included in this update.
2018 | Supplemental operating budget
In even-numbered years, the Legislature is tasked with approving the state's supplemental budgets. These budgets make midcourse, minor adjustments to the two-year operating budget put in place in the previous year, such as 2017.
With a Democrat majority in both the House and Senate this session for the first time in several years, we saw many controversial public policy issues and not nearly as much bipartisan collaboration. In previous years, both parties were engaged in building the state's operating budget. This year Republicans, for the most part, were left out of the operating budget negotiations.
On the final day of the 2018 legislative session, the supplemental operating budget was approved. There are certainly some good things about this budget, including funds dedicated to new K-12 salary allocations for the 2018-19 school year and more behavioral health enhancements. However, it's important to look at the whole picture when making a decision.
No real property tax relief
There are several reasons I could not support this year's supplemental operating budget. First, with an estimated $2 billion more in new revenue dollars coming to our state's coffers, we should have done more to give property owners tax relief.
Without eliminating any programs or asking for more in taxes, we could afford to do more than the minuscule tax reduction offered by the Democrats. The approved budget gives just 30 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value in tax relief, for one year only (2019). For the average $300,000 home, that's only about $90 in savings.
To add insult to injury, this small property tax cut is paid for by spending money that should have been deposited in our state's constitutionally-protected Budget Stabilization Account, aka the “rainy day fund.”
By using a budget “gimmick” created through Senate Bill 6614, more than $700 million is being diverted from the Budget Stabilization Account. This creates a very troubling precedent. It not only violates the public's trust, but raids an emergency account that may be needed by our state in the future.
Meaningful tax relief proposed and rejected
Republicans proposed bills to provide meaningful tax relief to property owners, but they were defeated. With the robust revenue projections for our state noted above, we could have done a lot better than offering a 30-cent rebate.
That's why I co-sponsored House Bill 3000, which would have reduced the assessed value rate to $2.365 from the McCleary fix rate of $2.89. The bill would have applied retroactively for state property taxes levied for collection in 2018. Taxpayers who already paid all, or a portion, of their property taxes would have received a refund on Jan. 1, 2018.
Other tax relief bills sponsored by Republicans included House Bill 2434 and House Bill 2303, that would have provided property tax relief in 2018 using existing revenue. Unfortunately, none of these proposals were allowed to advance this session.
School safety amendment not adopted in budget
Although it was nice to see this budget fund K-12 salary increases, it was extremely disappointing to have Democrats in the House rebuff our efforts to increase student safety through an amendment that would have provided $30 million to place school resource officers in every public school in Washington.
The amendment failed on a near party-line vote, 49-48, with only one Democrat voting in favor. We should be doing more to protect our children at school. This proposal should not have failed. Adding school resource officers would have been a very easy step for us to take to increase safety in our schools.
Big picture for operating budget
Overall, the 2018 supplemental budget increases state spending by $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, and another $600 million in the 2019-21 biennium. This is a 16% spending increase over the 2015-17 budget. If revenue does not continue to rise, we could be heading down a path of serious financial problems.
Wins | Major tax increase proposals averted
As I reported in a previous update, this year we were able to defeat another proposal to tax capital gains income. Also defeated was the governor's proposed $3.3 billion carbon tax. This tax would be paid for by families and those who could least afford it. Some estimates say it would increase gas prices by 8-cents per gallon, as well as adding another 2-cents every year thereafter.
Even worse, the plan would not have achieved the carbon reductions it promised. In fact, most of the funding raised would go to special interests, with CO2 emissions reductions taking a backseat. The taxes raised would have been spent on things that have nothing to do with carbon emissions, including funding for public relations campaigns regarding government assistance, online job training, and money to help with job transfers for fossil-fuel workers.
Disappointments | Home care providers forced to join the union
One of the more disappointing pieces of legislation to pass this session was Senate Bill 6199. The measure forces in-home caregivers to join a union and pay dues, even if they had previously opted-out. Many of these caregivers are taking care of family members and cannot afford these dues. Putting the financial interests of the union ahead of the rights of tens of thousands of workers is wrong.
House Republicans spoke out against the bill repeatedly on the House floor. Frustratingly, we were censored and gaveled down each time we said the words “union” or “Service Employees International Union” (SEIU), and were unable to discuss the policy.
It's our job as the legislative branch to debate policy. On the House floor we were hindered from doing so. In protest over the one-sided debate, all 48 House Republicans refused to vote on the measure that boosts unions and hurts families. The final vote was 50-0. No one in the Capitol can remember an abstention of this magnitude.
Students protecting students bill not allowed to move ahead
House Bill 2442 would have created the Students Protecting Students program. The legislation would have established a program in which students could use an iPhone app to anonymously alert school administrators to ominous or dangerous social media posts or threatening comments. The bill did not make it out of the House.
It is very disappointing to report the Legislature approved a measure that makes changes to surrogacy agreements, allowing for commercial surrogacy. I voted against this bill because it creates a market-mentality about childbirth.
The exchange of funds for carrying and giving birth undermines the human dignity of the mother, child and the adoptive parents. This kind of business transaction is very different from altruistic surrogacy, which is a compassionate act of generosity and sacrifice that does not involve for-profit payment.
House Republicans offered 14 amendments that would have shielded women and children from this type of exploitation. Sadly, they were all rejected on party lines.
Looking towards the 2019 session
As I look forward to the next legislative session, my goals include re-drafting and introducing a handful of bills I worked on this year, including:
House Bill 2350: would increase the exemption threshold for business and occupation (B&O) tax filing. It passed the House with a vote of 98-0, but stalled in the Senate.The bill would help small business owners reinvest money in their businesses, leading to increased productivity and job creation.
House Bill 2348: would prohibit the court from waiving, reducing, or suspending certain fees charged to persons who commit sex trafficking crimes involving a minor. There is no reason we need to be waiving the fees for people who are committing these horrendous crimes.
House Bill 2789: would require support by a majority of the people before annexation of a city, town, or unincorporated area. This is an important property rights issue as our local community continues to grow.
Staying in contact
Although session has ended, I will continue to work on our district's behalf. Please feel free to contact me any time with your questions about the legislative session and state government. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Olympia.