Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's hard to believe, but just nine days remain in the 2017 legislative session. At this point, all bills that did not advance out of the opposite chamber in which they were being considered are now dead for the year unless deemed necessary to implement or pass the budget.
Two of my bills advanced out of the Senate earlier this month.
House Bill 1654 received unanimous approval in the Senate on April 4, and was signed into law by the governor earlier today. I'm incredibly proud of this piece of legislation, which will expand opportunities for individuals to obtain a teaching certificate through nontraditional teacher prep programs — also known as alternative route programs. The quicker we can get these individuals into the classroom, the quicker we'll be able to fulfill the staffing needs so many of our school districts have.
House Bill 1017 was approved 31-17 in the Senate earlier this week. This bill would allow schools to be built outside of existing designated urban growth areas. If signed into law, school districts would be empowered to work with local authorities to build schools in rural communities, where so many students actually live. I'm grateful for the bipartisan support this bill has received throughout the process, and look forward to it becoming law.
House Democrats' operating proposal includes 20 percent B&O tax hike on businesses
It's a new biennium, but the House Democrats' 2017-19 operating budget proposal looks awfully similar to their past proposals. Their plan would increase spending by 34 percent over the next four years, while increasing taxes by $8 billion. Businesses grossing more than $250,000 per year would see their B&O taxes increase by 20 percent, which would have devastating consequences for many of our small- and medium-sized businesses. KING 5 News in Seattle recently published a story about how daycare rates would be affected by such a tax increase. An excerpt:
“These taxes get passed down to the parents,” Mini-Skool Director Mugsy Schumacher said. She said the school has already raised tuition rates twice in the last year to cover cost of living increases and a minimum wage hike. Schumacher said rates would go up again if the proposal passes. She said the school would also have to turn away state subsidized low-income students to help pay for the increased taxes. “There are so many unintended consequences to keep adding taxes and burdens to childcare facilities like ours,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher's comments piggy-back on what I talked about in my last email update. It's getting more expensive for child care providers to stay in business, which is why 22 percent of them have closed since 2011. In a recent survey, nearly 90 percent of child care providers said January's minimum wage increase to $11/hour would “significantly” or “somewhat” increase costs. My fear is burdening them further with a 20 percent tax hike will cause many of these providers to close their doors.
Many other small- and medium-sized businesses are also struggling to make it. Auto dealerships, of which there are many in our district, come to mind. This tax hike would cost the average dealership in our district tens of thousands of dollars per year, which would result in increased costs being passed down to the consumer, as well as lost jobs. With many Washingtonians already driving the short distance across the border into Idaho to buy their vehicles, it doesn't strike me as wise to incentivize more of them to make that trip and bolster Idaho's economy.
Instead of imposing new tax hikes on businesses, we should be incentivizing them to stay in Washington state, grow their business and hire employees.
It's important we pass a fiscally responsible operating budget
In contrast to the House Democrats' plan, the plan put forward by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) does not call for any major tax increases. That's critical at a time when our economy is still getting back on its feet. While the SMCC's plan does increase state spending, it does so at a lesser rate than the House Democrats' plan.
I believe it's critical for us to be fiscally responsible when times are good in order to be adequately prepared for an eventual economic downturn. We must have a long-term perspective and vote on budgets that adequately fund key priorities like education, mental health and public safety, while also ensuring we're living within our means as a state.
How the operating budget proposals address K-12 education funding
On the subject of K-12 education funding, perhaps our most pressing issue this year, the House Democrats' budget calls for leaving the state's regressive education funding system in place. While it does increase the amount of money going toward K-12 education, it fails to deliver necessary reforms that would improve results in the classroom.
The SMCC, on the other hand, would replace the state's education funding system with a flat, statewide property tax. This would result in lower property taxes for the vast majority of taxpayers in the 4th. Additionally, students in our district and across our state would receive equitable funding.
Boosting starting teacher pay is one area where both sides are in agreement. Each plan calls for a hike in starting teacher pay to at least $45,000 per year, an increase of 26 percent from current levels. If we're going to solve our state's ongoing teacher shortage, we must provide incentives for individuals to become teachers and then stay in the classroom.
While there are elements of each plan that I like and dislike, neither represents what the final K-12 education funding plan will look like. At the end of the day, I hope to be able to vote for a plan that adequately addresses our state's teacher shortage, rewards good teachers, ensures students in every school district have an equal opportunity to succeed, and solves McCleary once and for all.
Sponsoring West Valley HS student Shiann Franklin as a House page
Last month, I had the opportunity to sponsor 16-year-old West Valley High School student Shiann Franklin as a page here in the state House. Shiann's hobbies include singing and playing sports, and she's also keenly interested in robotics. During her week as a page, she attended page school every day, delivered messages and documents to legislators and staff, and fulfilled other tasks critical to the efficient operation of the Legislature. Thank you for your service, Shiann!
Please continue to contact me with your comments, questions and concerns. I value and appreciate your feedback.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House. I wish you a blessed Easter.