Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As you may have heard, budget negotiators were unable to come to an agreement on the 2017-19 operating budget before the end of the regular session on April 23. As a result, we have been called into a 30-day special session by the governor.
At the center of negotiations are two big issues: taxes and K-12 education funding. The House Democratic Caucus is proposing to raise taxes by $8 billion over the next four years, but has yet to bring a tax package to the House floor for a vote. Members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) say there's no need for massive new tax increases, and I agree with them. The March revenue forecast projected more than half a billion dollars in additional revenue coming into the state during the 2017-19 biennium, so instead of asking taxpayers for more, we should be using existing revenue to fund the state's day-to-day operations.
On K-12 education funding, both parties are seeking to increase funding to a level not seen since the 1980s. Both plans are within $100 million of each other. Despite the similar increase in spending, how the state funds K-12 education going forward is an area where the two sides have different visions. House Democrats want to leave the current funding system in place, while the SMCC is proposing to replace levies with a new flat tax assessment as a state portion of the property tax. I mentioned in my last email update how the SMCC's plan would provide a property tax cut for many residents in our district, while also increasing funds for our local schools and providing equitable funding for students around the state.
There are many other issues that must be negotiated, but none are as contentious as these two. While I'm disappointed the majority parties couldn't find common ground before the end of the regular session, past special sessions have produced bipartisan operating budgets and good outcomes for students in our state. For example, the 2015 legislative session, which ran for 176 days, produced the first tuition reduction for college students in more than 30 years. There is room for optimism during this special session as well. I will keep you posted on the progress of negotiations as we move forward.
House Bill 1538 passes Senate, now on governor's desk
During the 105-day regular session, the House and Senate passed more than 300 bills, which are now awaiting the governor's signature. One of these bills is House Bill 1538, which I sponsored to ensure subcontractors who work on public projects receive payment in a timely manner.
Currently, public entities are required to withhold up to 5 percent of the value of a public works contract until the project they're working on is mostly complete. This is known as retainage. To avoid such withholding, general contractors have the option to bond the 5 percent retainage. When general contractors choose not to bond for the retainage, subcontractors do not receive that 5 percent when they complete their work. Under my bill, subcontractors will be authorized to request that general contractors bond for their portion of the retainage. If such a request is made, general contractors will be required to comply within 30 days.
The reason House Bill 1538 is so important is the retainage that's withheld from smaller subcontractors often represents the profit margin, payroll and cash flow they need. Because of the provisions in this bill, they'll be more likely to have the ability to bid on new projects, enabling them to stay in business and pay their employees in a timely manner.
An update on my other bills
I sponsored three bills this session where the companion bill — the same policy sponsored by a member of the Senate — became the version of the bill that moved forward.
House Bill 1303/Senate Bill 5142 will increase opportunities for sign language interpreters to meet the performance standard necessary to work in K-12 classrooms by providing an additional year for them to meet the required standard. SB 5142 was signed into law last week.
House Bill 1333/Senate Bill 5234 would require higher education institutions to establish an evidence-based policy for granting undergraduate course credits to students who earn a minimum score of 3 on AP exams. Most of the nearly 40 AP exams in Washington state require a score of 3 out of 5 to earn college credit, but not all colleges award credit the same way. SB 5234 is now on the governor's desk.
House Bill 1949/Senate Bill 5713 would create a skilled worker outreach, recruitment, and career awareness training program to increase the state's skilled workforce by awarding matching grants to eligible applicants. SB 5713 is also on the governor's desk.
Additionally, the following bills were approved in the House and passed out of their respective Senate committees, but did not receive a floor vote in the Senate. However, they're still active this biennium, and will be reintroduced next session.
House Bill 1433 would delink the annual increase in services and activity (S&A) fees from the percentage increase in college tuition. With the Legislature both freezing and lowering college tuition the past several years, budget writers have authorized S&A fee committees — comprised mostly of students — to vote on whether or not to increase their own fees based on campus and student needs.
House Bill 1742 would provide a way for local auto repair shops to legally service vehicles with expired tabs. Under the bill, shops would have the option of registering with the Department of Licensing to purchase transporter license plates for these vehicles. These specialty plates would protect the employees of the business from being held responsible for a vehicle's expired tabs.
House Bill 2087 would expand the protections currently provided for police vehicles and tow truck operators to include work zones. This would better protect highway construction and maintenance workers, as well as flaggers.
Minimal ST3 relief passes House, along with 2017-19 transportation budget
While an agreement has not yet been reached on the operating or capital budgets, the 2017-19 transportation budget has been approved in both chambers and is now on the governor's desk. When the budget came to the House floor for a vote earlier this month, House Republicans attempted to introduce five amendments to provide relief to those affected by Sound Transit 3 (ST3):
Amendment 416 would have allowed cities and counties to opt out of all ST3 taxes.
Amendment 420 would have required Sound Transit to assess vehicles using their Kelley Blue Book (KBB) value when assessing the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).
Amendment 421 would have prohibited Sound Transit from issuing any new bonds without receiving legislative approval first.
Amendment 422 would have required Sound Transit to assess vehicles using their KBB value if using the Department of Licensing (DOL) to collect the MVET.
Amendment 423 would have prohibited the DOL from collecting the MVET from residents of cities or counties that choose to opt out of the MVET.
None of the five amendments were adopted by the majority party. Instead, they brought a bill (House Bill 2201) forward to provide vehicle owners with a small rebate on their car tabs. I voted for the bill because I believe it's important for people to receive at least some financial relief. However, had we adopted the House Republican amendment to use a vehicle's KBB value when assessing the MVET, the rebate provided by the Legislature would have been much larger due to the more accurate valuation.
House Bill 2201 is currently in the Senate awaiting further action.
'Coffee and Conversation' meeting this Saturday
Rep. McDonald, Sen. Zeiger and I will be holding our third 'Coffee and Conversation' meeting of the session this Saturday, April 29, at Pierce College Puyallup from 10-11 a.m. The address is 1601 39th Ave SE, Puyallup, WA 98374. We will be meeting in Multipurpose Room A in the College Center Building (map of the campus here). Please join us as we provide an update on the 2017 legislative session and answer your questions!
Thank you for continuing to send me your comments, questions and concerns about the wide range of legislative issues before us this year. I have had community members, students, educators, business owners, tradesmen and women, and families come visit me in my office. The insight I've received from them has enabled me to better work on behalf of our district.
It is an honor to serve as your state representative.