Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been a busy couple of weeks here in Olympia. You may have heard that the state Supreme Court overturned the two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to increase taxes. Though this will likely open up the discussion about tax increases (I'm opposed), it does not change the will of the people. Read the statement I sent to the press here.
The first two deadlines for House bills to move out of House committees have passed, and for the next two weeks we will be spending a great deal of time voting as a full House on the floor.
The Legislature sets various deadlines, known as “cutoffs” to help ensure we complete our work in the constitutionally-allowed 105 days. Though there are exceptions, bills that haven't been passed by a committee by last Friday (March 2) are considered “dead” for the year. Take a look at this list of “dead” and “alive” bills (note: I may not agree with the categorization of each bill as “good” or “bad”). This gives you an idea of not only where the more controversial bills are headed, but also the quantity of bills we see here – and that is just a small cross-section.
The three bills I sponsored are still moving forward:
- House Bill 1352 to extend the statute of limitations for child sex crimes is on “Second Reading.” This means it is eligible for amendment on the House floor. If there are no amendments, or after amendments have been voted on, the bill will move to “Third Reading” and the full House chamber of 98 representatives will vote on the bill.
- House Bill 1836 to ensure contraband is not brought on to McNeil Island now that is is a secure housing facility for sexually violent predators is waiting for action by the House Rules Committee. Chaired by the House Speaker Frank Chopp, this committee decides whether bills will be scheduled for floor action.
- House Bill 1902 to allow owners of recreational trailers to purchase lifetime registration received a hearing in the House Transportation Committee. Though it was not voted on by the committee, I am told it will be considered “necessary to implement the budget” and therefore exempt from the deadlines. Remember what I said about exceptions to the rules?
House Democrats propose gas tax increase
You may have heard about the proposal to fund transportation projects with various taxes and fees, including a 10-cent gas tax increase. I've heard from many of you already that you do not want to pay more at the pump. I encourage you to take this survey online to add your voice to others around the state. I believe we cannot ask for more from people's wallets right now, especially in light of recent information about wasteful spending and major design flaws at the Department of Transportation. Taxpayers deserve better – we should fix it before we fund it.
Higher education and future generations
I recently met with trustees of the major universities in Washington, and we discussed how the state is falling short in funding higher education for middle-class students. We're creating a social stratification in our state that allows the very poor to obtain scholarships and financial aid to attend college, while the well-off continue to afford higher education on their own. Meanwhile, the middle class falls short, and students are graduating college with debt the size of a mortgage and no house to show for it. We are gradually removing an entire class and generation of students from being educated. Check out this chart which shows the flip of proportionate funding by the state and students (click on the image and scroll to slide 19 to see it larger):
We need to turn this around. My seatmate, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, introduced a proposal last year to begin dedicating a portion of existing tax revenue to higher education. While expanded tuition authority has only addressed the symptoms of reduced higher education funding, this proposal would address the problem. This would reverse the direction of the chart above and return the share to at least 50/50. The state has a vested interest in an educated workforce – it is the best return on investment we have, and secures our economic future. While hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed, good-paying available jobs remain unfilled because Washington does not have the workforce required to meet the open job requirements. This is a major problem that must be remedied.
As always, I encourage you to contact me about these or any other issue. I appreciate hearing from you, and I'm honored to serve as your representative in the people's house.