Operating budget - the good
As with any budget compromise, there is going to be good and bad. In the end, I decided to vote for the operating budget because of the historic nature of the spending plan - largest education budget in state history, first-ever tuition reduction, and important funding for our mentally ill. And, when you look at the final product many felt it had a Republican feel to it. Not easy to do when you have a Democratic governor and a Democrat majority in the House led by Frank Chopp, the longest sitting speaker in state history. Here are some budget highlights:
- invests an additional $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education to meet the McCleary court decision;
- reduces class size in grades K-3;
- provides a cost-of-living raise for teachers and state employees;
- reduces the cost of tuition at the state’s four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges, a huge win for students and middle-class families;
- makes significant investments in treatment and capacity for our mentally ill and preserves our health and human services safety net;
- increases funding for state parks; and
- accomplishes these things with NO major taxes increases - capital gains, carbon, cap and trade, bottled water and most B&O tax proposals were taken off the table.
Some of the aspects of the budget I am concerned with and hope will be addressed in future budget negotiations:
- takes money out of the state Public Works Trust Fund - the account our local governments rely on for infrastructure and construction projects;
- it establishes a click through nexus for purposes of collecting B&O and retail sales taxes on internet businesses; and
- it increases spending more than necessary.
I am disappointed the Legislature passed a $16 billion transportation gas tax revenue package. Taxpayers in Washington state will pay about $13.60 in state and federal gas taxes every time they pull up to the gas pump for 20 gallons of gas. It will be the second highest gas tax in the nation when it is fully implemented. It isn't just the gas tax either - we will see weight and license fee increases, and this plan falls disproportionately on the residents in rural areas who commute long distances.
I do not believe the state Department of Transportation has proven efficient enough to warrant this level of spending and debt. We are working on alternative finance options for next year.
There was a great deal of frustration from constituents, as well as us legislators, on how long we were in session. However, some things are worth fighting for and it was important we hold the line. Remember in December Gov. Inslee and House Democrats were proposing tax increases of up to $1.5 billion. Instead we got a budget with no major tax increases.
That said, political gamesmanship did rear its ugly head in the last couple weeks. After a budget agreement had been reached, leaders from both parties and chambers stood with the governor to announce that agreement. That agreement should have been honored. I am pleased to see the actions by the Senate Democrats did not go unnoticed by the press:
The Columbian editorial: Senate Dems’ action stinks (July 5, 2015)
- “As Senate Democrats last week blew a $2 billion hole in the just-approved state operating budget, they exposed the seamy underbelly of political gamesmanship, eschewing compromise and negotiation in favor of extortion. The result is a steaming mess for taxpayers.”
- “Nobody wins from further delaying the process, save for Democrats who wish to pander to the Washington Education Association, which supports I-1351.”
- “The whole state has to wait for the Senate Democratic leadership to line up. Disappointingly, that group, led by Minority Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island and Deputy Leader Andy Billig of Spokane, reneged on a hard-won budget deal contingent on delaying the implementation of Initiative 1351. Confoundingly, both stood by the governor and their House and Senate counterparts at a June 27 news conference to announce a deal — before working to undermine it.”
- “Undermining significant bipartisan accomplishments on the operating budget, using the impossible Initiative 1351 as leverage, only discredits the Senate Democrats.”
- “The holdouts say they only want attention for a bill to revamp mandatory testing and high school graduation requirements. If so, they choose a tantrum with consequences way out of proportion to their goal. They stand in the way of a budget that is in most ways an important accomplishment for the state and its people. They should step aside.”