The Senate Transportation Committee has a new transportation package nearing completion. It has some good solutions that bring transparency, accountability, more efficiency, and overall better use of your tax dollars. On the flip-side, this proposed transportation package also includes a gas tax, which is why I’m asking you to participate in a survey. I want to know your thoughts and opinions regarding a package that to some appear to be double-edged. Some components are clearly beneficial, and others may be subject to question, specifically why we need to implement a new gas tax or would this tax be beneficial if certain reforms are put in place. The breakdown for the proposed gas tax increase would be 5 cents in 2016, 4.2 cents in 2017, and 2.5 cents in 2018. The proposal is not locked in yet – there is still some negotiating to take place, specifically the apparent low amount of dedicated transportation dollars for districts 10 and 39.
The money that has been raised by previous gas tax hikes is in fact being used in its entirety. In the past transportation package, the taxes raised have gone to projects that were fast-tracked and bonded based on future revenue. We did this in order to lock in a set interest rate and to start projects promptly. Legislators are looking to do the same thing again in this new proposed package.
Please take a moment to take our brief survey. I look forward to your feedback.
A big Thank You to all who participated in my annual golf tournament! It was a great success and a lot of fun. Shown below is the winning foursome holding the coveted traveling trophy. From left to right: Gene Cushway, Steve Anderson, Pat Ford, Dave Acton.
Now that the tournament is over it really feels like summer is over. Kids are back in school, the weather is starting to change and the November election is not that far away!
As promised, today I want to update you about a few important issues.
Update on K-12 Education
In keeping with the subject of returning to school, I think it’s important to share a little about the status of K-12 education in Washington.
On September 11th, the State Supreme Court issued its ruling in the McCleary case. This case is the one that first resulted in the Court requiring the Legislature to provide more funding for basic education. Last Thursday’s ruling was that the Legislature was in contempt of court for not having a plan to fully fund education.
The issue at the heart of the matter is from where additional money for basic education will come from. Governor Inslee and most Democrats in the Legislature have pushed for more taxes as the solution, but they have not proposed a plan that would guarantee that additional revenue would only go towards education.
I am of the strong belief that before we even consider new taxes, we need to do a much better job of spending the resources the taxpayers have already given us. I know we can do better with what we have. In fact, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus was able to produce a budget last year that had $1 billion more for basic education without raising taxes. There’s more room for reform and reprioritization with the revenue we have now.
Additionally, as even the plaintiff in McCleary agrees, education should be the first budget that is funded by the Legislature. That is one major reform that we need to implement next year.
Update on the State Pension System
When it comes to state pensions, there are a couple of points to always keep in mind:
- We need to keep promises made to public employees, and
- We must manage state pensions so that they remain viable in the long term
What recently happened is that the State Supreme Court issued a significant ruling that impacts the state’s budget for years to come.
In the 90’s the Legislature made a couple of changes to our pension system that benefited state public employees during the high times of the dot-com bubble. During the recent recession, the state was left with unrealistic requirements for these pensions. Here’s how The Olympian describes the problem:
At issue were two pension benefit increases granted in 1995 and 1998, but later repealed by lawmakers as the Great Recession started in 2007 and deepened in 2011. One granted an automatic 3 percent annual increase to pensioners in older plans, regardless of the inflation rate. The other, called gain sharing, increased benefits when investment returns were high, but never decreased them again as investment returns dropped.
The issue in the recent State Supreme Court case was whether the Legislature could repeal those pension benefit increases. The Court said yes, because lawmakers had included provisions in the increases that allowed for the enhancements to be repealed in tougher economic times.
What this means is that taxpayers could be saved some $1.3 billion in the 2015-2017 biennium and as much as $10 billion over the next 25 years.
If the Court had ruled differently there might have eventually been no way to be able to financially support these pensions. The decision is tough, but a necessary one to make for the viability of state pensions for years to come.
Coffee Talks are Coming Soon!
Soon I will be announcing my schedule of upcoming coffee talks. This is when I travel around the district and meet with constituents in local venues to give you an opportunity to share your concerns.
Thanks for reading! Next newsletter will include discussions on long term health care.
All my best,
I hope you are enjoying this beautiful Pacific Northwest summer; I know I have. Between meeting with constituents, enjoying the sunshine at community events and driving to Olympia for Legislative commitments, the summer has really flown by.
I was honored to visit with many of my neighbors and constituents this summer, but a fair amount of time has gone by since I wrote you last and I hope you will take a moment to read a few quick updates on issues that are affecting our community.
But first…please join me this Friday at Whidbey Golf Club for my Annual Golf Tournament!
It’s still not too late to sign up for my annual golf tournament and/or become a sponsor. Please click here for more information or to sign up!
Protecting our At Risk Citizens
For those with loved ones with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the fear of your loved one wandering and getting lost is very real. Recent cases of lost seniors struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia has renewed conversations regarding Washington State’s Endangered Missing Person Advisory Plan, which has been underused in broadcasting when seniors are missing.
After watching the affect Alzheimer’s had on my own mother, I know how crucial every moment is when your loved one has wandered and is lost.
In the past, I have sponsored legislation to bring the Silver Alert System to Washington, a system that works much like the Amber Alert system. I think doing this, or making modifications to the existing Endangered Missing Person Advisory, will go a long way towards helping our senior citizens remain safe.
It is time to move forward on improving the safety of our vulnerable citizens.
Keeping Transportation Funding Accountable
Smooth and reliable transportation, both public and private, is critical to our everyday lives.
At the local level, recent events have indicated possible mismanagement of Island Transit’s finances. Our state has seen too many botched and failed transportation projects in the last several years and I am committed to making sure our community is running smoothly and taxpayers’ dollars are being used efficiently.
After hearing of the mismanaged funds, I joined with the 10th District Representatives and the Senate Transportation Committee in drafting and sending letters to the state auditor asking for an audit of Island Transit’s finances. I will continue working in the upcoming legislative session to ensure that transportation is being properly funded and your tax dollars are being used efficiently.
I am honored to announce that I was recently recognized by the University of Washington as a “Top Dawg” for my work and dedication to ensuring our veterans have access to higher education and working to keep tuition costs down in Washington. Thank you!
In a few days expect to see another newsletter updating you on the following:
- State Pension System
- Long Term Health Care
Stay alert! School begins this week across the state. Be careful on the roads.
I hope to see you this Friday!