Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 176 days and three special sessions, the Legislature finally adjourned last Friday. Although it took longer than I would've liked, I believe the Legislature made great strides this year in passing legislation that will benefit all Washingtonians.
The $38 billion 2015-17 operating budget is a good example. While it is not a perfect budget, it achieves the important goal of meeting the state's constitutional obligation outlined in the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision to fund K-12 education. The spending plan invests $1.3 billion into our schools, while also decreasing class sizes in grades K-3 and providing cost of living adjustments for our teachers and school employees. These individuals work incredibly hard day in and day out with our young leaders, and this raise is much-deserved.
The operating budget also provides the first tuition reduction for college students since the 1970s. As a former student at the University of Washington who experienced the largest tuition increases in state history, I know what a difference this reduction will make for our students and their families. See the chart on the left to learn more.
In addition to historic education funding, the budget also makes major investments in early learning and the state's mental health system. I commend both parties for working hard to produce an operating budget that serves Washingtonians well.
The Legislature also passed a $3.9 billion capital budget near the end of session. The capital budget is the “bricks and mortar” budget for the state, and is used to fund long-term construction needs with long-term bonds and dedicated cash accounts. The spending plan we passed provides for the priorities and immediate needs of our state, and utilizes $875 million for class size reductions, including school surveys to determine future class size reductions. It also provides funding for increases in mental health bed capacity, housing for veterans and other vulnerable individuals, mitigation for the current drought, fire hazard reduction efforts, and more.
In the 25th District, the budget funds a variety of important projects and renovations, including: the new Franklin Pierce Early Learning Center, Brookville Gardens in Fife, Stan and Joan Cross Park, WSU-Puyallup, Clarks Creek Hatchery, and other projects across Pierce County. Overall, this is an excellent capital budget that provides much-needed infrastructure improvements and important community projects that will benefit our communities and the state for years to come.
The other major spending plan the Legislature passed was a $16 billion transportation package. As you know, I've been advocating for the completion of Highway 167 since becoming state representative. For decades, state transportation plans have failed to complete the highway, and as a result, we have massive gridlock on our roads, bottlenecks at our ports, and our shippers continue to experience delays. I'm happy to say the transportation package we passed allocates the necessary funds to finally complete Highway 167. The completion of this crucial project will lead to a number of economic benefits, including the creation of new jobs, improved freight mobility, and hundreds of millions of dollars saved in travel time. While I would've liked to have seen more reforms in the package, we did secure several key reforms and avoided a low carbon fuel standard that could have increased gas prices by a dollar or more per gallon.
One solid reform that was included in the package was Senate Bill 5995 (I sponsored the companion bill — House Bill 1939 — in the House). The measure modifies the definition of the Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) policy goals to include congestion relief and improved freight mobility. These are essential additions to the six goals WSDOT currently considers when planning and carrying out the construction of projects; economic vitality; preservation; safety; mobility; the environment; and stewardship. Going forward, I am hopeful equal consideration of these eight goals will help WSDOT in its efforts to prioritize projects and complete them in an efficient manner.
Of the five bills I sponsored this session, two were signed into law by the governor. House Bill 1316 protects vulnerable adults, and House Bill 1554 protects the privacy of children in public records requests. It was honor working alongside our community members in Pierce County and the city of Fife to get these policies passed into law.
Additionally, I co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that became law this session, including a new policy that benefits our local fire protection districts and EMT services, a measure that expedites permitting and contracting for the hundreds of structurally deficient bridges in our state, and a bill that provides financial relief for members of our military who are enrolled in college. Bills remain active for an entire biennium, so I will continue to work on two other bills I introduced this session. One would reduce college textbook costs, and the other would increase safety at schools.
Along with sponsoring and co-sponsoring key legislation, I met with more than 350 people and groups in my office this session. These meetings exposed the need for a variety of solutions to the challenges we face. I will be spending my time between now and the start of the 2016 session continuing to meet with people and groups, and coming up with solutions that benefit our district and state.
In June, I spent time in the classrooms of Franklin Pierce High School (photos of my tour are below), Ford Middle School and Midland Elementary. During my time at these schools, I saw students deeply engaged in math activities, science experiments, English language development, phonics, and financial literacy curriculum. I also had the opportunity to visit the new Franklin Pierce Early Learning Center that will open this September. This new center, funded in this year's capital budget, will serve young children from low-income families in our district.
It is great to see the Franklin Pierce School District focusing on academic achievement, and instilling a passion for learning for all students. Teachers are doing an incredible job of preparing students with the skills they need to set forth on a path toward success in college and in the workplace. My tour was inspiring and informative as I saw the successes and challenges students, educators and administrators experience. I will continue to advocate for flexible policies that allow our local districts to make decisions that best benefit their students.
Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me during the interim. I am here to serve you year-round, and would love to continue to hear your thoughts, ideas, and solutions for our district and state. My email address is email@example.com, and my phone number is (360) 786-7948.
It is an honor to represent the 25th District in the state House of Representatives.