Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Today is the 79th day of the 105-day legislative session, and though you would think activities and floor action would be speeding up, it has been very slow. Many of the great bills from the Senate to address jobs and education reform are not moving forward in the Democrat-controlled House. In the next week, we will be shifting from talking about policies to addressing how to fund these policies and priorities of the state. The governor introduced his outline on the budget, and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is expected to roll out its proposal soon. Then, the House majority party will introduce its budget proposal. From there, the House and Senate will have to agree on a final budget for the governor to sign.
Last week, the House passed a resolution honoring Vietnam War veterans by designating March 30 “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” I was pleased to support this resolution and recognize the veterans who traveled to Olympia.
In addition to the resolution, I have supported several bills that would help support our veterans and their families:
• House Bill 1192 would allow veterans with disabilities from other states to qualify for reduced hunting and fishing license fees in Washington. It would encourage other states to offer the same discounted license fees to our state's veterans. It just passed the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
• House Bill 1615 would have authorized a $2,000 tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed veterans. Unfortunately, it did not move forward.
• Senate Bill 5072 would provide a tax exemption on adaptive equipment for vehicles owned by disabled veterans. This bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee.
As someone who served in the U.S. Army, and as a proud American, I want to thank all of our veterans and active-duty military who serve our state and country.
Join us for a telephone town hall meeting
If you couldn't make it to our town hall meeting back in February, here's another opportunity to speak directly with me. Sen. Michael Baumgartner and I will be hosting a live telephone town hall Tuesday, April 9. This is a great way for us to reach out to a broader audience within the 6th Legislative District, and a great way for you to stay informed on what's happening in Olympia, all from the comfort of your own home. The call will begin at 6:30 p.m. and last one hour. You'll have the opportunity to answer poll questions, ask us questions directly, or simply listen to the conversation. To join the conversation next week, call toll-free 1-877-229-8493, then dial pin number 17921. I hope you'll join us – I look forward to hearing from the people I represent.
Governor outlines budget priorities
Last week, the governor introduced his budget outline and priorities. It wasn't a full budget, but it gives us an idea how he'd prefer the Legislature balance the budget. The answer: tax increases. Governor Inslee proposed $1.2 billion worth of tax increases, in the form of ending tax exemptions for employers and making “temporary” taxes permanent. You can read more about the tax proposals here. I'm disappointed he broke his promise to not increase taxes, and that he targets many small businesses and people who are self-employed with his proposals. This isn't what our economy needs right now.
I'm pleased the governor chose to prioritize K-12 education at the top of his budget, because funding education first is something I have supported. Unfortunately, even with $1.2 billion in tax increases and $579 million in fund transfers or shifts, Governor Inslee still proposed increasing tuition at four-year institutions by 5 percent. College students and their parents just can't afford this – I know, because my daughter attends WSU.
Addressing the lack of jobs in our state
Did you know that Washington ranks 23rd in the nation for business friendliness, 24th for licensing regulations, 33rd for regulatory friendliness, and 36th for employment, labor and hiring? This is according to Governing Magazine. Our only redeeming mark was that we rank 11th for the ease of starting a business. Unfortunately, with an unfriendly climate, difficult licensing, too many regulations, and challenges with a reliable workforce, new businesses struggle to succeed. That's why I supported proposals that would have reduced the barriers that cause employers to struggle to grow and hire. These include:
- Additional changes to workers' compensation reforms passed in 2011 – addressing final settlement options and other reforms, and protecting earnings for those who suffer work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Regulatory Freedom and Accountability Act: House Bill 1163
- Save taxpayer dollars by streamlining government operations, and end duplicative state services and government waste.
- Permit decisions in 90 days: House Bill 1236
- Require state agencies to make permit decisions in 90 days or the permit is granted. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays, and stimulate economic activity.
More than 7 percent of Spokane County is still unemployed and seeking work. This number is a lot higher in other counties, so our economy is stabilizing faster than others. But there are still thousands looking for work. Unfortunately, many of the bills good for jobs have not moved forward, as well as several important proposals from the Senate. It's my hope that by the end of session the Legislature and governor can accomplish something to help job creators and individuals looking for work.
As always, if you ever have any questions, comments or concerns, don't hesitate to contact my office. It's an honor to serve you in the state Legislature.