Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 176 days and three special sessions, the 2015 legislative session finally came to a close on July 10. I really enjoyed my first session as a state representative, and although I am disappointed with how long it took to pass the operating budget, I am thankful we were able to avoid major tax increases the governor and House Democrats were proposing throughout much of the session.
In the end, three major spending plans passed this year — the operating and capital budgets, and a $16 billion transportation package. In this update, I want to provide some brief thoughts on all three.
The $38 billion two-year operating budget is a big improvement over earlier budget proposals. While it includes funding for many important programs and services, it has its problems as well.
First, the good. The budget is free of any major tax increases, which is a big win for taxpayers considering the majority party in the House had $1.5 billion in new taxes on the table early on in the session. The budget also invests $1.3 billion toward meeting our constitutional obligation to fund K-12 basic education. Additionally, college students will see a reduction in their tuition for the first time since the 1970s.
The bad is the budget represents a 12 percent increase in spending from the current operating budget. With state revenue projected to increase about 9 percent, we are still spending beyond our means and setting ourselves up for more budgetary gridlock in the future. Though the budget is not nearly as bad as it could have been, it relies too heavily on tax shifts and transfers of funds from public works and other dedicated accounts. Moreover, it leaves a very small end fund balance to deal with unforeseen costs and emergencies.
The budget also continues state funding of Planned Parenthood to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. This is unacceptable. Taxpayers should not be funding an organization that aborts more than 300,000 babies every year and is apparently in the business of selling fetal body parts.
You sent me to Olympia to protect human life, support fiscally responsible policies, and ensure our state government is working for us, not against us. I am committed to doing that, which is why I voted “no” on the operating budget.
I did vote in support of the two-year capital budget. Known as the “bricks and mortar” budget, it funds the physical infrastructure needs of the state. This includes funding for prisons, K-12 and higher education facilities, water management, public land purchases, public housing and park facilities. The $3.9 billion capital budget builds more than 500 new K-12 classrooms, funds construction and maintenance projects for schools, makes the largest-ever investment in state parks and trails, and more. It is a very strong bipartisan budget that I was proud to support.
A number of important projects in our community will be receiving funding in the capital budget, including:
- Appleway Trail ($1,000,000);
- Roof repairs in the Spokane Community College system ($85,000);
- Mount Spokane Lodge ($904,000);
- Mount Spokane Nordic Area improvement and horse camp development ($182,000)
- Mount Spokane road improvements ($2,400,000); and
- Natural-resources investments ($4,000,000).
Budget negotiators on both sides of the aisle should be commended for working together in a spirit of compromise for the betterment of our communities and the state.
Transportation revenue package
The vote we took on a $16 billion transportation package earlier this month was extremely disappointing. The package includes some important projects, but it also raises the state's gas tax by 11.9 cents (the first increase of 7 cents kicks in Aug. 1). When I asked earlier in the session if you would be willing to pay more at the pump if more transportation projects were funded in the 4th District, 82 percent of you said no.
Before the final vote on the package, there was an amendment to put the gas-tax increase on the ballot. That amendment was defeated with a 52-46 vote, so unfortunately our state will soon have the second-highest gas tax in the nation.
Along with the increase in the gas tax, there are also increases in weight and registration fees. And while there are several Department of Transportation reforms in the package, I felt they could've been stronger. They certainly don't justify such large increases in the gas tax and in weight and registration fees. For all these reasons, I could not support the package.
Although we are now adjourned, please know I am here to serve you year-round. Don't hesitate to get in touch with me with any comments, questions or concerns you have. My contact information is below.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.