Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2013 special sessions came to a close for the year on Saturday, June 29. It is good to be back in Spokane with you! I was frustrated it took so long for budget writers and leadership of the various caucuses to find an agreement on the budget. However, overall, there were more successes than failures in this year's sessions, which speaks greatly not only to the public's engagement, but also to the new Senate Majority Coalition Caucus that managed to stop most of the ill-conceived proposals. In this issue:
- most tax increases failed
- why I voted against the operating budget
- capital budget provides projects for Spokane area
- DUI legislation makes small step forward
- transportation budget passes, gas tax fails
I look forward to many opportunities to see you around town or to meet with your group, workplace or one-on-one over coffee. Please contact my office any time to schedule a meeting, ask a question, or simply share your concerns with state government. It's an honor to serve you.
Most tax increases failed
Last month I wrote to you about the special session and the vast differences in how the House majority, made up of Democrats, and the Senate majority, made up of Republicans and two Democrats, proposed addressing the state budget. As a result of many long nights of negotiations, and our own House Republican leadership getting involved to bring everyone to a compromise, most of the initial tax increase proposals died, including:
- the bottled water tax;
- the beer/microbrew tax;
- the permanent extension of the temporary tax increase on small businesses;
- the sales tax on out-of-state shoppers at our local businesses; and
- the satellite/TV tax.
These are great successes not only for Republicans and the new Senate Majority Coalition, but also for the hardworking people of our state who can't afford to send more of their paychecks to Olympia! These tax increases would have had a negative impact on our economy, which is just starting to show signs of improvement.
However, there was one tax increase that passed I did not support. House Bill 2075, passed and already signed by the governor, clarifies that the estate tax (which I don't support) applies to married couples in the same way as it does to individuals. It was not this equity in law I objected to – but that this legislation was being applied retroactively – meaning families who did not pay estate tax because it was not law yet now do not receive refunds and will now pay the estate tax for the past. This is not right – and I believe it will not stand up to constitutional review.
I did support a change to our tax laws to protect remote and rural communications providers who need tax subsidies to keep phone service affordable for their customers. House Bill 1971 will modernize the tax treatment of telecommunications services to address the continuing changes in technology and minimize a $600-$900 million tax liability for taxpayers. Passing this bill causes less damage to the residents of the 6th District than not passing it would have.
The final operating budget, Senate Bill 5034, was not one I could support. Though it is considerably better than previous proposals by House Democrats, it still does not stand up to two important questions: does it support life and does it balance without tax increases? The answers to both of these questions is no. Not only does this budget depend on $159 million in new taxes from the passage of the estate tax bill I discussed above, it provides a state subsidy for abortions. I cannot support a state budget that forces all taxpayers to fund abortions, when so many in our state oppose abortion for reasons of faith, including myself. In addition, the budget relies on the promise of federal money to the state, including Medicaid funding under Obamacare. Basing part of our budget on merely promised revenues places us in a vulnerable position, should any of these promises not be kept.
The capital budget (Senate Bills 5035 and 5036) was one of the last things that passed this year, since it depends on bonding by the size of the operating budget. I supported both bills to fund core infrastructure projects in Spokane, including:
- $9.4 million for a new fire alarm system and security improvements like video surveillance at Airway Heights Corrections Center;
- $8.8 million for HVAC and electrical upgrades, along with other building improvements at Eastern Washington University;
- $2.7 million for Fairchild Airforce Base;
- $2.4 million for preservation and repairs at Spokane Falls Community College;
- $900,000 for Eastern State Hospital patient safety improvements; and
These projects more than meet the purpose of the capital budget to fund important infrastructure around our state to build, maintain and preserve the state's “brick and mortar” investments.
My predecessor, John Ahern, fought long and hard to increase penalties for those who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of him, our state makes a 5th DUI in 10 years a felony. This isn't enough, and John agreed, which is why he continued to sponsor legislation to make a 3rd DUI in seven years a felony. This is a completely preventable crime that has taken the lives of too many daughters, sons, mothers, fathers and friends. As a former police officer, I had to make heartbreaking calls to parents in the middle of the night.
This year, I supported Senate Bill 5912 to:
- install more ignition interlock devices on repeat drunk drivers' cars;
- increase penalties for DUI while a child under 16 is in the car; and,
- increase penalties for DUI when driving in the opposite flow of traffic on a highway.
You can watch my speech in the House chamber on this bill here. We need to do more, but this is a good first step to addressing repeat DUI offenders. I look forward to working on this issue again next year.
In late May, the Legislature adopted a transportation budget within current revenues. I voted no on Senate Bill 5024 for several reasons:
- It included just $68 million for the North-South freeway, while the west side of the mountains received almost $2 billion between two projects in the Seattle area.
- It included $240 million on transit, bike paths, pedestrian walkways and stormwater maintenance. The 31 transit agencies are already collecting more in revenue than the entire state does in gas taxes – while serving only 3 percent of daily trip demand. This money could be better used on projects on our side of the mountains.
- It did not include the Highway 902 interchange and resurfacing project.
- It did not include the Highway 904 widening project. This is a safety project for those traveling to Cheney, as I do nearly every day.
- It did not include my lifetime registration legislation (House Bill 1902) for owners of trailers, as I was promised when the bill did not move forward.
In a previous e-mail update, I shared with you a proposal by House Democrats to increase the gas tax. Thanks to those of you who participated in the survey, which was sent out statewide by other legislators, too. The results were astounding. Out of 1,150 who responded, 87 percent said they were not willing to pay 10 cents more per gallon to pay for transportation projects. The comments on the survey revealed two important things: people and families can't afford to pay more at the pump right now, and people don't have faith in the Department of Transportation to use their dollars wisely.
Fortunately, the transportation revenue package (House Bill 1954), which included a gas tax increase and a variety of other fee increases, did not pass the Legislature. Even after the governor pushed the Legislature to pass the package, and House Democrats amended the plan to increase the gas tax by 10.5 cents over 13 months, the support could not be found. While it passed in the House by a razor-thin margin (on the second try), it did not pass the Senate, controlled by a coalition of two Democrats and 23 Republicans.
I've joined my House Republican colleagues in proposing solutions to address public confidence (or lack thereof). We are calling our package “fix it before you fund it“:
- House Bill 1985 would exempt future state transportation projects from state and local sales and use tax. The state is wasting money paying itself right now! This bill did not move forward.
- House Bill 1986 would require WSDOT to report to the Legislature on engineering errors and mistakes that exceed $500,000. The report would need to explain how it happened, the department of the responsible employee(s), what corrective action was taken, and what actions the transportation secretary recommends to avoid similar errors in the future. This passed the House 82-3 (I voted yes), but did not make it through the Senate.
- House Bill 1984 would limit WSDOT's tort liability based on the amount of the department's actual fault, instead of allowing plaintiffs to recover the entire judgment from the deeper pockets of the state. This bill did not move forward.
- House Bill 1989 would limit bond terms for transportation projects to 15 years, saving the state money on interest paid on the debt. This bill received a public hearing, but did not move forward.
- House Bill 1236 would require state agencies to make a permit decision in 90 days or the permit is granted. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays in the permitting process, stimulating economic activity. This bill did not move forward.
- House Bill 1619 would suspend GMA requirements in counties with persistent unemployment, where regulations often stand in the way of economic development. This bill did not move forward.
These bills will be “alive” again in next year's session, so we can try again for these common-sense reforms to our transportation system.