The 2013 Legislative Session adjourned “Sine Die” on Sunday, April 28. Latin for “without day,” Sine Die is the traditional name for the conclusion of legislative sessions. Ironically, the Legislature ended without a budget deal and will indeed return for another day—May 13—for a Special Session.
The Senate Health Care Committee
The Regular Session ran 105 days—plenty of time for us to get our business done. I’m proud to say that the Senate did what we promised: the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus passed its bipartisan operating budget on April 5th.The Senate’s proposal balances the state budget, increases funding to basic and higher education and protects Washington’s most vulnerable citizens—all without increasing taxes or extending temporary taxes.
In a recent press conference, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus announced it had completed its goals for the session and that the Senate members were ready and available to work with the House to come to a budget agreement and end the Regular Session on time. The Senate’s proposal does what we promised to do when we began in January–prioritize jobs, education and the budget.
Unfortunately, the House wasn’t even ready to hash out a budget deal until less than a week before session ended, when it passed its spending proposal. The House’s approach is much different than the Senate’s—theirs relies on about $900 million in tax increases. The vast difference between these two proposals made striking a deal in such a short time nearly impossible.
Washington citizens have made it clear—they do not support higher taxes. In fact, in my last e-newsletter I asked my readers which budget they preferred and 80% chose the Senate’s. Here are the results:
I am looking forward to working with members of both parties to find a compromise budget that does not raise taxes on hardworking Washingtonians but still balances the budget.
Bill to Provide State Employees New Pension Option Passes Senate
In other news, before leaving for home, the Senate passed a bill I sponsored that would give state employees more choices and flexibility in planning for their futures. Although our State has one of the best pension systems in the country, Senate Bill 5851 would allow employees the opportunity to choose a retirement plan that best suits their lifestyles and individual goals. What’s important about this legislation is that it provides state employees a viable retirement planning option—it’s not a mandate.
The bill passed the Senate and is currently waiting to be heard in the House. The upside of the Special Session is that it allows time for good bills such as this one to still be heard, and time for Washingtonians to get informed and voice their opinions on the budget.
As always, please keep in touch—feedback from my constituents is vital for me to represent you well.
A lot has been happening in the last few weeks. First I want to update you about the much-discussed issue of allowing undocumented students access to state need grants.
As I have mentioned on my Facebook page and in other articles, I am opposed to this legislation for some fundamental reasons. One is that our state does not have funding for thousands of students who are citizens of the state, let alone those undocumented students who would be added to the list. It would not be fair or fiscally prudent. Additionally, there are other programs that serve a similar purpose to the state need grant and they are already available to undocumented students. I have heard from so many of you about how your kids are already waiting in line for much needed financial aid and can’t receive it because there isn’t enough funding. In fact, the overwhelming response of readers of my e-newsletter was against this legislation:
Click the image for a larger version.
While I always keep an open mind to legislation as it changes during legislative session, for the reasons above as well as others I decided it was my duty to make the decision I have made. In the coming weeks I will continue to work to make sure that we put more funding into higher education, which I believe will later on afford us the ability to revisit discussions like this one.
In the meantime, I will continue to read your comments about this and other issues.
Living Within Our Means
Other big news is the passage of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus’s budget. The budget passed with a bipartisan 30-18 vote. Democrat budget leader Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) called it “the most transparent bipartisan process that’s ever happened.”
The bipartisan Senate budget plan is responsible, sustainable and balances without increasing taxeson Washington’s citizens and struggling businesses. Just as the voters and families that I represent must live within their means, so must the government who represents them.
As mandated by the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, the budget plan invests an additional $1.5 billion into K-12 education. It also prioritizes higher education and supports the 10-3-50 plan I co-sponsored. The budget proposes to decrease tuition at state colleges and universities by three percent while increasing state funding to those institutions by 11 percent. It also assigns $50 million in funding for institutions that meet certain performance standards.
The budget also still protects our most vulnerable citizens without increasing taxes that would stifle business and hit already-struggling taxpayers hard.
Although our economy is growing, it’s still fragile. Revenue forecasts indicate that the economy is growing just enough to create an additional $2 billion dollars in revenue. Increasing taxes, closing tax breaks and extending temporary taxes that are set to expire would only serve to hinder this slow growth and break campaign promises to the voters. Lawmakers must make decisions that encourage business and growth which, in turn, will create jobs and increase revenue at a faster pace.
Other Budget Plans Proposed
While the Senate’s budget would not raise taxes, the House and the Governor have both proposed budgets that would raise taxes as well leave less money in reserve for future hard times. Their plans also increase spending by more than the Senate’s plan.
One reason for the difference is because the Senate’s budget proposal finds $250 million dollars in government efficiencies through “lean management” techniques and prioritizing government responsibilities. The Senate budget spends $1.1 billion less than Governor Inslee’s $34.4 billion-dollar spending plan and about $1.15 billion less than the House budget.
Because of these disparities in priorities, it’s not likely this budget plan will be adopted by the House and signed by the Governor without substantial review and amendment. All the budgets will now be debated until, hopefully, an acceptable agreement can be hammered out. A budget agreement must be achieved by April 28 for the Legislature to wrap up the 2013 Session without having to call a special session.
The bipartisan Senate’s operating budget proposal is a sensible, sustainable plan for the people of the 10th District and I and many of my colleagues are working hard to ensure the best of it makes it through the budget debates and into the final budget by the end of April. Please feel free to send me your thoughts about the budget. My priority is representing your best interests.
As always, thank you for your support.
State Need Grants for Undocumented Students?
This week I wanted to bring up an issue that is truly a hot topic that I think deserves thoughtful discussion.
The Washington State House of Representatives just recently passed House Bill 1817 with a bipartisan vote. The bill, which has been dubbed the Washington Dream Act, would give undocumented students who graduate from high school in our state access to the State Need Grant program.
There are a lot of opinions on both sides of this issue. Proponents feel that we should give the same opportunities as everyone else to students who were brought to our country by no choice of their own. Opponents believe we should prioritize students who already are unable to receive the State Need Grant because of a lack of funding.
This coming Thursday I will be holding a hearing for House Bill 1817 in the Senate Higher Education Committee, which I chair. I look forward to hearing opinions from people on both sides of the issue. But you have the opportunity to share your opinion with me before Thursday comes. Please take a moment to respond to my survey below: