Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 176 days in session, I'm happy to report the Legislature has finally adjourned for the year. The operating budget was approved without new taxes (avoiding a government shutdown), the capital budget provides necessary infrastructure for our state, and a new transportation tax package was approved (which I did not support). Read more about each below.
Operating budget – responsibly funds priorities without raising new taxes
Although I'm disappointed it took so long to reach a compromise between the House and Senate, I'm very pleased with the final outcome. A divided government means we must compromise, and taxpayers and families benefit the most from this budget compromise. I voted “yes” for the budget, and here's why.
Democrats, led by Gov. Inslee, originally proposed $1.5 billion in new taxes – from a new capital gains income tax, to a carbon tax, to a bottled water tax and B&O tax increases. They said we couldn't balance the budget and fund education investments without these taxes. Republicans pointed to $3.2 billion in additional revenues we were already expecting within our current tax structure, and said it could be done. We did it. None of these tax increases passed.
But the lack of large tax increases isn't the only great thing about this budget. We meet the obligations of the McCleary court case and our state constitution to fully fund basic education. Education now makes up 48 percent of our budget – the largest portion in 30 years. We cut tuition for college students across our state for the first time in our state's history. As a parent of a college student, I know this will have a lasting impact on families and students. We provide $2.5 million for the new WSU medical school – which I hope will be named after the late, great, Dr. Elson Floyd. We provide modest teacher and state employee raises. We step up our investment in mental health treatment – a huge issue for Spokane County with our homeless population and jails. It's not just our moral obligation, it's a public safety issue.
The budget also ends some tax incentives – incentives that were sponsored by Democrats (they've sponsored 87 percent since 2005) to serve their special interests. Then we redirected those incentives toward industries that are growing and will have a positive benefit for our economy – like aluminum smelters and businesses who hire veterans.
Transportation tax package – the largest in history with the wrong priorities
Last week, I voted “no” on the largest gas tax increase in our state's history. There were several reasons I just couldn't accept this proposal.
First, the people I represent (you!) have repeatedly and consistently told me you don't support a gas-tax increase. We know Spokane and Eastern Washington, in general, gets left out of the major funding in these packages.
The other thing I hear so much about from you is “why aren't my car tabs $30 like I voted on?” Not only has government found ways to pile on more fees to your annual tabs, this package would increase them $15 more on average. In addition, the tax package includes about $1 billion set aside for bikes, pedestrian paths and transit – users who don't contribute to the infrastructure they use.
While the proposal does include funding for the North-South freeway, making you pay about 12 cents more per gallon is not the way to do it. Our state and federal gas tax is already at 55.9 cents – an increase of 12 cents would make us second only to Pennsylvania with the highest gas tax in the country.
There are highway projects in the Puget Sound area which were conceived at the same time as our North-South freeway. Since then, those projects have been fully funded, constructed and now must be replaced again – while we continue to wait on full funding for the North-South freeway.
The package also includes rail rehabilitation in Spokane County that connects to three other counties, as well as funding for the economic portal at the interchange of Highway 902 and Interstate 90. These are worthwhile projects that are important for our district. While I do not question the economic benefits of transportation investments, I do question the mismanagement of funds and projects by the Department of Transportation (mostly on the west side). These worthwhile projects should have and could have been funded within existing revenues instead of asking you to pay more at the pump to make them happen.
As I head home to Spokane County, it's important that I continue to hear from you. Please don't hesitate to contact my office anytime with questions, comments or concerns. I serve as your representative all year – and it's an honor.