Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Since my last update, House and Senate committees have been meeting every day to consider bills that were advanced out of the opposite chamber earlier this session. Wednesday marked opposite house policy committee cutoff. This means all bills without a fiscal impact that did not advance out of their respective committees in the opposite chamber are now considered dead for the year. The only exception to this are bills deemed necessary to implement or pass the budget.
Speaking of the budget, the majority parties in the House and Senate have now unveiled their 2017-19 operating budget proposals. The proposal put forward by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) would appropriate $43.2 billion of existing state resources without raising taxes. The House Democrats' proposal would appropriate $44.8 billion and rely on $8 billion in tax increases— $3 billion in 2017-19 and $5 billion in 2019-21.
Highlights of the MCC's budget include:
- Provides $2 billion in new K-12 education funding (a 20 percent increase from 2015-17), which means K-12 funding would represent more than 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time since 1983.
- Makes higher education more affordable and accessible by funding 1,800 new enrollments, with a significant focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees.
- Makes significant investments to protect foster children and individuals with developmental disabilities.
- Leaves $2 billion in the rainy day fund to be used in the event of an emergency.
- No new or major tax increases.
The MCC's budget would also change the way the state funds K-12 education by eliminating the current system and replacing it with a flat, local effort property tax. This would benefit our students by increasing funds for our local schools, creating more equitably funded classrooms around the state, and providing a property tax cut for many residents in the 25th District.
Estimated impact of the MCC's education funding plan on the average homeowner in the 25th District according to Senate fiscal documents:
- Bethel School District: $535 property tax decrease
- Fife School District: $352 property tax decrease
- Franklin Pierce School District: $604 property tax decrease
- Orting School District: $423 property tax decrease
- Puyallup School District: $554 property tax decrease
- Sumner School District: $453 property tax decrease
- Tacoma School District: $551 property tax decrease
House Democrats released their budget proposal on Monday. While it also increases K-12 education funding and makes other investments across the state, working families and small businesses would be required to foot the bill for the $8 billion in tax increases I mentioned above. As a small business owner, I'm concerned about the negative impact these tax hikes could have on entrepreneurship, business recruitment and economic growth in Washington. Anything that adversely affects employment opportunities would also hurt our communities and families.
Despite the policy differences in each budget proposal, the bottom line is neither proposal reflects what the final budget will ultimately look like. As soon as the House Democrats' budget passes later today, negotiators from the House, Senate, and governor's office will sit down and prioritize the state's investments as they work toward crafting a final compromise budget. As these discussions ramp up, I will continue to share the 25th District's priorities with the negotiators in each chamber.
An update on my bills
This year, five of my bills advanced out of the House and were sent to the Senate for further consideration. I wanted to provide you with a quick update on their status.
House Bill 1333 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. This bill was unanimously voted out of the Senate Higher Education Committee earlier this week and referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
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. This bill would give our students the autonomy to better manage their own needs and remove budget writers from the process completely. This bill was also voted unanimously out of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and is now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
House Bill 1538 aims to reduce the amount of retainage that's held from subcontractors when working on public projects. By increasing the funds that pass through to small business subcontractors, businesses would be able to pay their employees and bid on new projects, increasing their ability to stay in business and hire new employees. This bill was unanimously voted out of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee earlier this month, and is now awaiting further action in the Senate Rules Committee.
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. This bill was voted out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, and is now awaiting further action in the Senate Rules Committee.
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. This bill was unanimously voted out of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee last week, and is now awaiting further action in the Senate Rules Committee.
Sound Transit 3
Last November, a ballot measure called Sound Transit 3 (ST3) was put before voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The $54 billion light rail expansion project (scheduled to be completed in 2041), called for 62 miles of light rail to be added, along with stations in 37 new areas.
ST3 received 58 percent of the vote in King County and 51 percent of the vote in Snohomish County, which was enough for it to be approved, despite the 56 percent “no” vote in Pierce County. Since its passage, many constituents have shared their concerns about its effect on their pocketbooks due to the resulting increase in car-tab fees, sales and use taxes, and property taxes.
My office has heard from hundreds of people who have seen their car-tab fees rise due to Sound Transit valuing vehicle's based on their MSRP as opposed to what their actual value is.
Several bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate to remedy the problems brought about by ST3, and alleviate the stress on our local families and businesses.
Senate Bill 5854 would allow Pierce County to exempt itself from the Regional Transit Authority tax. House Bill 2168 would change the current depreciation calculation used by Sound Transit. Instead of the 1992 valuation formula, it would rely on the Kelley Blue Book value. In addition to providing financial relief, Senate Bill 5001 would bring additional accountability to the Sound Transit Board, which is currently comprised of elected officials from the three counties. Under this bill, voters would directly elect board members.
The voters spoke last year, but it's clear fixes are needed to address the unintended consequences brought on by the passage of ST3. I am actively working with members of the Pierce County delegation to seek relief for the 25th District as the light rail expansion plan is implemented.
If you are interested in seeing the ST3 project map, you can access it here.
Town hall recap
Thank you to those of you who joined Rep. McDonald, Sen. Zeiger and me at the Franklin Pierce Early Learning Center for our town hall on March 18! It was great to have the opportunity to discuss education policy, potential solutions for relief from ST3 taxes, and an update on the work occurring in the Legislature.
For your calendar: our next town hall will be held Saturday, April 29 from 10-11 a.m. at Pierce College's Puyallup Campus.
Thank you for continuing to send me your comments, questions and concerns about the wide range of legislative issues before us this year. Your feedback is important to me as we continue to work together on behalf of our communities in the 25th.
It is an honor to serve as your state representative.