It’s summer…and though it’s the best time of year to be outside and going to events, it’s never too early for families planning to send kids to college to think ahead to what they have to expect.
Last month I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at the Eastern Washington University commencement ceremony. It was an honor to speak there, and there was a lot for graduates to celebrate. But at the same time, it was a good moment to reflect on the challenges families with kids going to public colleges and universities will face…
College isn’t as easy as it used to be, and I’m not talking about tests here. Students and families have faced higher costs and less certainly in recent years than perhaps ever before. Since 1986, tuition rates for state colleges and universities in Washington have increased each year.
Under the leadership in Olympia, even a 7% cap on tuition increases that I had successfully pushed through in 2007 was overturned and tuition was raised by 14% in 2009, 2010, and 2011!
Because of this, Washington State is now ranked #2 in terms of the increase in the average cost of tuition at public colleges and universities. That’s unacceptable. But that’s why the Senate Majority Coalition went to work and froze tuition in its place for two straight years. That hadn’t happened since 1980-1981!
It was a mistake to do away with the 7% cap on tuition growth.
It was a mistake to allow 14% tuition increases each year.
I don’t know how long we can sustain the tuition freeze, but we simply cannot have a repeat of those mistakes. Let’s keep them in the past.
I recently read an investigative article from NPR that I thought did a good job highlighting the critical economic impact of disability insurance. I highly recommend the piece—it largely focuses on the federal implications, but mentions the struggles of our own Aberdeen.
According to the article, 14 million people across the United States are receiving a disability check—a number that has risen sharply in the past 30 years.
Even more concerning is the number of kids on SSI (Supplementary Security Income), a program for both kids and adults who are poor and disabled. A kid’s disability is anything that hinders the student from progressing in school and, likewise, an adult who has a physical condition that prevents him or her from working.
While there are certainly physical circumstances that make working or attending school impossible for some people, the drastic and rapid increase is indicative of system abuse and a government that seems powerless to stop it. Disability costs the federal government more than food stamps and welfare combined. To add fuel to the fire, states are rewarded for moving people off welfare. But often people simply jump from one welfare program to another—disability insurance.
The important takeaway is this: when a family’s income is contingent on a student struggling in school, it will continue to breed a culture of dependence rather than self-sufficiency.
The disability problem is largely viewed as a federal issue, yet it does have a critical impact on state budgets. Since disability recipients also qualify for Medicare benefits, each state is required to pay half of their medical costs. Washington’s costs amount to about $1 billion each biennia for disability recipients’ medical care.
Disability is a growing problem that perpetuates poverty by cultivating a culture of dependency and has a critical effect on our state and federal economies. Federal economists warn that if we continue down the same road, disability insurance program funds are set to run out in 2016. This is a serious issue that should concern state and federal policymakers. It’s time to dive deeper into these issues and work to start implementing reforms.
After legislators made it clear they don’t all view the question of climate change as he does, Gov. Jay Inslee is trying to salvage his pet issue by taking it behind closed doors, pretty much ignoring those who would be stuck with the tab – and most everyone east of the Cascades.
When President Obama began brandishing his executive power to bypass Congress, he justified it by saying “we cannot wait.” Inslee said the same when end-running the Legislature with a recent executive order about what he calls “carbon pollution.” The governor could have promoted a transparent, statewide discussion that lets the climate-change chips fall where they may. Instead, Inslee is limiting the secret talks to participants of his choosing rather than including people with reason to offer contrary views.
Inslee’s approach centers on a task force that is to “shape” the climate-change legislation he will offer for 2015. However, a look at the hand-picked group, which met for the first time the day its creation was announced, suggests there will be less shaping and more rubber-stamping.
One task force co-chair comes from Seattle’s Vulcan Inc. Founded by billionaire Paul Allen, Vulcan isn’t the sort of small business that forms the economic backbone of communities across Washington. But, then again, Inslee’s 21-person group doesn’t include a soul from the small-business community. The other co-chair is from the downtown Seattle environmental law firm that gave us David Dicks, the incompetent former head of the state Puget Sound Partnership.
Also on the list: four representatives of organized labor; two from renewable-energy organizations; one from an immigrant-rights group; and one from a policy group with a reputation for favoring tax increases. Couldn’t Inslee have been content with just three labor-union delegates and instead offered a place at the table to one of the many small employers jeopardized by his cap-and-trade push?
The interests of Central and Eastern Washington are being carried by only two people, or less than 10 percent of the panel. Those seats went to the Chelan County Public Utility District, a government agency, and Richland-based Energy Northwest, an energy supplier. The voice of a cooperative such as Inland Power and Light Co., whose ratepayers already are being pinched by the buy-before-need consequences of Washington’s renewable-energy law, won’t be heard.
Agriculture is Washington’s largest employer, and we rank third nationally for agricultural exports, yet agriculture’s presence in the group is limited to a forest-products industry representative and the state’s dairy federation director. While the governor talks about climate change affecting shellfish, the apple industry and irrigation, those categories aren’t represented. Neither are freight haulers and automobile-industry dealers, meaning our state’s ground-based transportation sector has no one to speak for it – but the methane-producing cows do.
If the governor thought a task force endorsement would lend credibility to legislation he proposes for 2015, he could and should have assembled a panel representing the broad swath of those who stand to bear the high cost of his climate-change agenda. Instead, Inslee’s hand-picked group dodges the threatened sectors of the economy the way he himself is sidestepping the Legislature.
This task force could do one useful thing: persuade the governor to come clean about how his climate-change agenda will increase energy costs, including fuel prices. People know Inslee wants a gas-tax increase to fund additional transportation projects. They deserve to know whether he’s also looking to hit them with a carbon-fuel tax – maybe 30 cents, even a dollar per gallon of gas – to support the climate-change pact he quietly signed last year (in California, home to a billionaire climate-change crusader who has since tried to influence elections here).
As a side note, I am heartened that Inslee has pulled Washington State University and the state energy program it runs into the process. Hopefully the governor will dip into his office budget to help WSU offset the cost.
During his 2013 inaugural address, after urging Washingtonians to “square up to both our responsibility and our opportunity on climate change,” Inslee followed with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
This year the Legislature challenged the governor’s stance on climate change. Now, he’s resorted to the convenience of issuing an executive order and the comfort of a hand-picked task force that can rubber-stamp his agenda. By his own standard, Inslee isn’t measuring up.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is Senate Republican leader.
My thoughts and prayers are with Oso and the greater community of Darrington, as well as the lives touched by loss and tragedy as a result of last month’s devastating mudslide. Life is indeed precious—may we remember our fragility with each moment we are blessed to hold dear.
Significant Session Highlights & Achievements
I have lately been reflecting on the short 2014 Legislative Session and I am proud of our many accomplishments and that we ended on time on March 13th.
In short, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus passed a bipartisan, balanced budget that did not increase taxes on Washingtonians. But the budget did more than that. It put an additional $58 million into basic education and $20 million more into mental health services. Furthermore, the budget extended by another year the long-overdue freeze on state college and university tuition put in place last year.
Fortunately, we did most of the heavy lifting during the 2013 Legislative Session, which paved the way for smooth sailing this year. We began this Legislative Session without a facing a budget deficit for the first time since 2008. A clean slate made it easy to tie up loose fiscal ends, add more money into education and take care of essential services, all while not reaching deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets.
There are many ways where government can cut waste, reform spending and steward taxpayer resources more wisely and responsibly. As Senate Republican Leader, I am proud that the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has taken the lead on fiscal responsibility in Olympia.
I am also proud and encouraged by the bipartisan progress we’ve made in the Legislature, led in large part by the Senate Caucus. The final 2014 supplementary budget was well supported in both the House and Senate. Also originating in the Senate, the REAL Hope Act, legislation that broadens college opportunity for all, including the children of illegal immigrants, brought both sides of the aisle together.
Legislation to Protect Military Signed into Law
I am also proud of the four Senate Caucus bills that were recently signed into law by Governor Inslee that make progress to protect the heroic servicemen and women and veterans of Washington State.
- Senate Bill 5318 will allow veterans and their family members to receive in-state tuition at the state public colleges and universities instead of waiting a year to gain residency. This legislation will set up an easier pathway for our retiring military members to pursue an education and a smoother transition from military to civilian life.
- Senate Bill 5969 will grant college credit for certain military training programs and courses. Another law that will help our military members’ transition into civilian life, SB 5969 will take affect by 2016.
- Senate Bill 5691 will establish a new veterans’ home in Walla Walla.
- Senate Bill 5775 will enable veterans to apply for a special veteran designation on their driver license or ID card. This will allow them to prove their veteran status simply by showing an ID, rather than Department of Defense discharge papers whenever they want to access the benefits they have dutifully earned.
Our military veteran and active duty personnel are a vital demographic, accounting for more than 10 percent of the state’s population. I believe it is our duty to honor their sacrifice and protect their rights.
Senate Majority Leads with Bipartisanship
A stable balance of power in the Legislature creates a reasoned legislative debate and produces compromise that ultimately benefits the State much more than an uneven balance of beliefs and opinions.
Not all that happened during session turned out for the better, however.
The other side of a healthy democracy is political pandering. That’s what we saw when the Senate Democrats voted against their own legislation at the last minute after heavy pressure from the Washington Education Association (WEA), the educators’ union that contributes significant monies during election time. The legislation Senate minority Democrats voted against would have implemented standardized test results as part of teacher evaluations.
Washington is one of a handful of states that was waived from the Federal No Child Left Behind requirements to use student standardized tests. Now the Federal Government is requiring that Washington school districts comply with this requirement, or lose $40 million in Federal Title 1 money, which is distributed among the districts according to student need.
Without this legislation, Washington could very easily lose control of $40 million in education money. The Senate minority Democrats’ vote satisfied special interests, but it did so at the expense of school districts statewide, many of which serve large populations of at-risk and vulnerable students.
Bad Time to Raise Legislators’ Per Diem
I have stood firm against increasing the rate of daily compensation Senators collect for expenses while the Legislature is in session. The “per diem” is designed to cover necessary expenses such as gas, housing, meals, etc. It is in addition to annual salary.
Unfortunately, the majority on the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee approved an increase in the daily per diem by $30, from $90 to $120, in a 4-3 vote. I was one of the dissenting votes because I believe it is not the time to increase lawmakers’ pay, especially when other state employees haven’t been given pay increases.
The majority did not agree with me. However, in spite of the approval of the per diem increase, I will continue to receive my per diem at the $90 rate I’ve been operating within since 2005. I do not want to be responsible for increasing the burden on taxpayers at this stage in our economic recovery.
Youth Initiative Nabs State Title for Palouse Waterfall
I’m also proud to announce that, thanks to the enterprising students of Washtucna Elementary School, Palouse Falls has been named the official waterfall of Washington State. The Washtucna students pushed House Bill 2119, legislation that made the waterfall’s official title state law. I’m proud of these tenacious young people—they took an idea and saw it through to fruition, all the while learning valuable lessons about the legislative process. The Falls are a beautiful feature of the 9th District—hopefully more people from around our state will come to our area to see them because of this legislation!
While legislative sessions in even years are shorter and typically quieter than in odd years, I am especially encouraged by the cooperation and efficiency of this past session.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus adds a vital balance to the House and Executive powers in Olympia. It has been an honor to help lead this group and to ensure that the interests of the 9th District are heard.
Please feel free to let me know how you think the Legislative Session went. My door is always open.
There is just about one week left of the short 2014 Legislative Session. We have worked hard in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus to get our business done so that the Legislature can end on time on March 13th.
Budget Talks Continue, Major Legwork Already Done
At the end of February the bipartisan Senate Coalition proposed a supplemental budget that would increase funding for K-12 education, expand college opportunities and support other essential statewide services.
The Senate’s $96 million budget proposal builds on the bipartisan effort made in the 2013 regular Legislative Session. Because we began this session without facing a budget deficit for the first time since 2008, we were able to focus on addressing the most critical needs of our state without increasing taxes.
The Senate Democrats and House Democrats have both released their budget proposals and negotiations are ongoing to find common ground before session ends. I am hopeful we will come to a sound and timely agreement that protects taxpayers’ resources and also adequately meets our State’s needs.
REAL Hope Act Passes House, Signed by Governor
In my last update, I mentioned that the Senate passed the REAL Hope Act, which will direct $5 million more into the State Need Grant program and allow the children of undocumented immigrants the ability to apply for these grants. The House also passed the bill 75-22 and it was signed by the Governor. The Legislation, while certainly a compromise, will capitalize on the K-12 investment we’ve already made in these young people. I am confident it will give them greater opportunity to become productive citizens.
Governor Out of Touch on Death Penalty
Governor Inslee recently made national headlines for announcing a moratorium on the death penalty while he is in office. His decision doesn’t overturn or pardon any death sentences. It does mean, however, that he will suspend any death penalty cases that come across his desk while he is Governor.
I believe Governor Inslee’s decision is out of touch with voters and with the Legislature they voted to represent them. The Legislature is the appropriate venue in which to have this debate.
The death penalty is certainly a complicated and conflicting issue, but the Legislature has consistently rejected previous efforts to suspend or end corporate punishment in Washington State. Governor Inslee should represent the will of the people and not ignore the importance of the legislative process.
Senate Democrats Flip Flop on Their Own Reform
In other head-scratching news, the Senate Democrats recently turned heads by voting against their own education reform legislation after what must have been some strong lobbying from the Washington Education Association (WEA).
In a 28-19 vote, the Senate voted against a bill they wrote themselves. Senate Bill 5246 would have required school districts to use standardized test results when evaluating teacher performance.
Washington State is one of a handful of states that were waived from the requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act to use students’ standardized test results as part of teacher evaluations. The Federal Government is now requiring Washington to comply with the teacher evaluation requirement or else lose $40 million in federal Title 1 dollars.
As if this weren’t enough, if nothing is done, nearly every parent of a school-aged student will receive notification letters that their local school is failing—not the kind of information that builds confidence in local government and elected officials.
Although the impact of losing Title 1 funding would be widespread, it is distributed according to need. This means the loss of this money will affect districts with predominate numbers of minorities and children of migrant workers the most—some of the very students both the House and Senate are trying to protect with the REAL Hope Act.
No matter what side of the issue you are on, we all believe our teachers are critical to the development and preparation of our young people and to the vitality of our State’s future.
We certainly can have different views of how to evaluate teacher performance, but it’s frustrating to me to see Democrats flip flop at the last second because of pressure from the teacher’s union. This is a glaring example of lawmakers wanting to protect the hand that doles significant dollars during election time. We need to demand better from our lawmakers.
2014 Legislative Shootout
I recently had the chance to take a break from the Capitol campus for a couple of hours to join other legislators at the annual Legislator Shootout. The event is sponsored by the Evergreen Sportsmen’s Club and was lock-loaded fun. There’s even a video!
Lastly, I wanted to mention that I enjoyed chatting with my constituents the other week during a Telephone Town Hall. However, you don’t need a town hall to tell me what’s on your mind. I always look forward to hearing from my constituents.
We’re in our fourth week of this short, 60-day legislative session. I’m optimistic about our progress. Below is information about some of what is going in your State Capitol.
But first I want to mention that I am proud to have welcomed two new members, Senator Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) and Brian Dansel (R-Republic), into the Senate bipartisan coalition. I am looking forward to working with my new colleagues!
2014 Legislative Session: Where We Started
Because of the bipartisan effort of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus in 2013, we were able to begin the 2014 session without a budget deficit for the first time since 2008. This frees us up to tackle other critical issues facing our great state. Some of these include better funding and reforms for education, continuing to improve Washington’s struggling economy, addressing statewide transportation problems and adjusting last year’s budget when and where necessary.
Expanding College Opportunity
First I want to mention that last week the Senate passed a bipartisan pair of bills that expand opportunity for all students. The REAL Hope Act put $5 million more into the State Need Grant program. As part of a compromise between different sides, the Act expands access to the Grants to children of undocumented immigrants, and it shortened the waiting period for active military and veterans to be able to receive in-state tuition. Due to the nature of any political compromise, the Act isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction towards helping more students get support for college both in word and in deed by actually funding the policy.
The State of Washington State
Last month Governor Jay Inslee gave his State of the State address in the Capitol Rotunda. Although the Governor’s intentions to create a stronger and more viable statewide economy are good, his approach is concerning and counter-intuitive.
The $1.50 to $2.50 minimum wage increase proposed by Governor Inslee comes on the coattails of a landmark vote to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the city of SeaTac. I am in favor of higher wages, but I don’t believe such a significant government mandate is the solution.
Washington, already boasting the highest minimum wage in the country, is struggling to compete with other states where the costs of business are lower and the regulatory burdens are lighter. Agriculture, a $40 billion dollar industry in Washington, is facing particularly strong competition with neighboring states like Idaho. Increasing the cost of business would only weaken our ability to compete. Washington is the country’s 4th largest exporting state—it is critical that we remain competitive in the international market.
But beyond this, I think there are a lot of common sense policy ideas that will help our economy grow, create more jobs, and make prospective and current employees more valuable to employers (and thus paid better). Policies such as Inslee’s would likely result in employers hiring less people with inexperience, which would result in younger and poorer people being hurt the most. This would be unacceptable–we can’t hurt those who need help the most.
Supporting Local Farmers
One bill I co-sponsored along with Senator Mark Mullett (D-Issaquah) is making progress through the Legislature. Senate Bill 6036 would support local farmers and our state’s vital agricultural resources along the Milwaukie Road Corridor, 215 miles of railroad right-of-way. Currently, only emergency access is allowed on the trail. SB 6036 would also allow public and agricultural access to the trail.
Simplifying the Tax Statute
Another bill I co-sponsored with Senator Hargrove (D-Port Angeles), Senate Bill 6333, is also moving forward. The bill would clarify and improve efficiency by simplifying and fixing obsolete and erroneous tax reporting requirements and statutes.
Limiting the Legislature’s Ability to Raise Taxes
One big picture issue the Senate has been working on is amending the Washington State Constitution to require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature or voter approval to raise or implement new taxes.
Voters approved the supermajority requirement at the ballot box multiple times in the last 20 years. In spite of this, last year the state Supreme Court overturned the voter-approved supermajority rule. Senate Joint Resolution 8213 would give voters another shot at making this limitation on the legislature’s taxing ability a reality.
We just had a vote on this Resolution this week and, unfortunately, there was not enough support for the measure. It’s unfortunate because this policy is strongly supported by the voters. Members of the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate are not willing to make it any more difficult for them to raise taxes.
The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier recently wrote an informative overview of SJR 8213 if you want more information about it.
Transportation Remains Key Issue
Lastly, I want to highlight important legislation from Senators Curtis King (R-Yakima and co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee) and Andy Hill (R- Redmond) that includes significant transportation reform. Senate Bill 6102 would return sales tax revenue collected on transportation projects back to the transportation budget rather than into the general fund, which is where it is currently diverted.
Legislation like SB 6102 would implement simple, practical reforms that steward taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently. The funds generated would more than offset the costs of significant and necessary statewide transportation projects.
What’s on your mind?
As we move forward in the 2014 Legislative Session, I will continue to work with my colleagues to focus on increasing jobs, improving the quality of our education system, and continuing to create a sustainable budget. Please stay connected to my office and let me know what’s on your mind.
Merry belated holidays and happy New Year. I hope you were all able to slow down a bit and enjoy time with family, friends and community.
2014 Brings Short Legislative Session
With the turn of the new year, I’m preparing for the 2014 Legislative Session, scheduled to begin on January 13th. The members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) are committed to bipartisan collaboration and efficiency with the goal of ending the short session on time on March 13th.
As the Majority Coalition Caucus heads into its second year of bipartisan legislating, I am very excited about what we will continue to accomplish. Last year we worked together to prioritize jobs and education while also creating a sustainable, balanced budget. This year has its own challenges.
My colleague and the head of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Senator Andy Hill, wrote a great, brief piece about common sense ways to make sure the Legislature ends session in a timely fashion. You can read his 3 proposals here…it’s well worth your time!
State Transportation is a Hot Issue
For the first time since 2008, our state is not facing a deficit. I am hopeful this triumph will allow us to concentrate on other critical issues facing Washington, such as transportation. We must work together to implement sound transportation solutions to Washington’s statewide mobility needs.
I’ve hammered this issue home before, but I want it be clear that the MCC and I are dedicated to the “fix it before we fund it” approach. There are a number of opportunities to reform funding and streamline the permitting process so transportation dollars are allocated properly and time and money is not wasted. It is important to steward time and resources wisely before asking for more constituents’ tax dollars.
DOE Water Quality Standards Vague
Another important local issue that has statewide ramifications for the agricultural industry is water quality standards and stream protection for our state’s farmers and ranchers. The Department of Ecology’s standards for stream pollution is vague and subjective, setting up scenarios wherein hardworking constituents are unfairly cited where standards are not clear.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision against Dayton rancher Joe Lemire set a powerful precedent for the DOE to interfere with citizens’ private property with little proof or clarity. The Supreme Court sided 8-1 with the DOE, which fined Lemire for pollution in Pataha Creek and mandated that he build a fence to keep his cows away from the stream, which is dry part of the year.
I believe the Legislature needs to work better with our state’s farmers and ranchers to set up fair and appropriate standards that support these valuable industries while also protecting our natural resources. I believe we should also view the agricultural industry as a precious natural resource.
I will be meeting with members of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and interested ranchers and landowners on January 6th at the Washington Wheat Foundation Annex Building in Ritzville to discuss possible legislative solutions to this issue.
As always, please be in touch. I am interested in constituent feedback and in understanding how to best represent the 9th District. I will continue to update you on our Legislative progress.
All my best,
As we enter the holiday season I am looking forward to spending time with family and friends and enjoying the beauty of Eastern Washington in the winter. I am thankful for so many things, but I am particularly grateful to live in such an outstanding community. As Washingtonians, we have much for which to be thankful—thriving economies in agriculture, technology and aerospace are just some examples.
Senate Majority Coalition Adds One More
And now I’m also thankful to add a conservative voice and further solidify the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus with the election of Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) in the 26th District! I of course was a big supporter of Angel’s race against Democrat incumbent Nathan Schlicher (Gig Harbor), who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Derek Kilmer, and I am excited by her election. I look forward to continued bipartisan collaboration on important upcoming issues in the 2014 Legislative Session.
Governor Jay Inslee called the Legislature together for another Special Session in early November. We addressed extending preferential tax rates for the aerospace industry—a leading economic driver with a huge statewide ripple effect. The Legislature passed two bills that extended economic incentives to encourage Boeing to build its next generation airliner, the 777X, in Washington State. The tax breaks, set to expire in 2024, will now be extended until 2040.
Keeping Washington competitive for the aerospace industry is critical to our economic health. Boeing and the related industry it requires generates 11 percent of Washington’s gross domestic product, billions of dollars of tax revenue and thousands of family-wage jobs. If Boeing departs for sunnier economic skies it would have huge economic consequences for our State.
Maintaining a competitive environment for Boeing in Washington, however, was contingent on the machinists and aerospace workers accepting its labor contract, which they voted down. Boeing is now being courted by a healthy handful of other states to build the 777X in their states.
I’m still hoping a deal can be struck with labor, but the Legislature has done its part to protect Washington from a devastating economic blow should Boeing pick up and build elsewhere. We also passed legislation that would create the skilled workforce necessary for Washington to be competitive and create a vibrant economic future.
Easing the Gridlock…
The Senate Transportation Committee has been meeting to address funding for critical transportation issues around the state, including the North Spokane Corridor—considered a statewide priority and certainly one for me in the 9th District.
A recent editorial in the Spokesman Review highlights the Senate’s ideas. We in the Majority Coalition Caucus will be prepared to quickly resolve this issue in the next Legislative session, whether next year or even in a special session this year. If we can compromise to accomplish much-needed reforms in transportation funding that would fully fund transportation projects critical to our state’s economic future, we can make steps to provide a bright and mobile future for generations to come.
Thankful for You
Lastly, I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful to be able to serve the 9th District. I hope you can take the time to slow down, enjoy your family and friends, and remember your blessings. No matter our circumstances, I believe we are blessed. We live in a free, great country and a vibrant, diverse state wherein opportunity is ripe.
Also—I will be watching Friday’s Apple Cup with excitement. The fun rivalry is one of my favorite games of the year. Go Cougs!
Saying Goodbye to a National Leader
This past week, family, friends and colleagues from both state and U.S. politics celebrated the life of Former House Speaker Tom Foley, who recently passed away at age 84 of complications surrounding a stroke.
As a young man growing up in Speaker Foley’s district, I remember visiting the Congressman and was impacted deeply by the kindness, respect and professionalism he and his staff showed during my visit. He will be deeply missed and, while I didn’t always agree with his politics, I respected his leadership.
Let’s End Gridlock—in Olympia and on Washington’s Highways
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has wrapped up a series of feedback forums to listen and assess the transportation priorities of concerned citizens around the state. The common thread we’ve heard is that people do not want increased prices at the pump to pay for transportation projects that should instead be funded by smarter allocation of our state’s current resources.
The Majority Coalition Caucus stands by its “fix it before fund it” platform when it comes to transportation. Here are just a few examples of how we can accomplish this:
- We should allocate $400 million dollars of funds for transportation that are currently being deposited into the state’s general fund and spent on non-transportation purposes. The funds originated from the sales tax paid by the state on materials used in road projects. Let’s keep funds where they belong.
- Currently, we spend about $40 million annually to handle and treat stormwater runoff from state roadways. Why not use available money already set aside for addressing polluted water? These substantial resources have been funded by a hazardous-substance tax approved by voters nearly 25 years ago.
- A simple streamlining of the environmental permitting process will reduce costs and timelines significantly—without reducing environmental impacts. A prime example is the I-5 Skagit River Ridge replacement, which was up and running in just one month. Why not apply the same process to future transportation projects?
I articulated these solutions in more detail in a recent article published in the Spokesman Review.
Members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus have had their ears to the ground and have responded with a list of viable options to address our state’s critical transportation issues without reaching deeper into citizens’ pockets. A full list of transportation reform ideas can be found at www.transpowashington.com.
California Billionaire Backs Schlicher in 26th District
As the November 5 election ends just next week, I want to call your attention again to the critical legislative battle in the 26th District. The race pits House Representative Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) against Democrat Nathan Schlicher (D-Gig Harbor). Schlicher was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Derek Kilmer, who was elected to Congress in 2012.
Although Representative Angel won the primary election decidedly, she’s facing a tough battle in what is now the single-most costly legislative race in Washington State, thanks in large part to California billionaire Tom Steyer.
Steyer, who made his money as an oil profiteer and Wall Street speculator, has made a name for himself in a couple key Democratic elections and ballot initiatives around the country. He’s already spent a whopping $455,000 for Schlicher and dumped an additional $3 million into a political action committee. The money came in four days after the Public Disclosure Commission’s (PDC) deadline for big campaign contributions—rendering it inapplicable to Schlicher’s campaign.
Time will tell what Steyer’s interest is in Washington State and how all of his unprecedented donations, overshadowing any interest group in the state, will be spent. That’s the kind of threatening politics that could quickly change the political tenor in Olympia—and not for the better.
Education & Industry Honors
Lastly, Washington State University’s Associated Student Body recently honored me with the Champion of Higher Education Award. I firmly believe higher education is a critical component of Washington’s successful future and I am humbled to receive this honor.
I was also recently honored by the Washington Auctioneer’s Association as Legislator of the Year, for my work to keep sales at farm auctions from being taxed. Particularly critical to the 9th District, our agricultural community has struggled enough in our challenging economy—we do not need to increase their tax burden!
I consider it a high priority to help protect and safeguard Washington’s vital higher education system and agricultural community.
As always, I am ready to hear from you. Let me know how I can best serve you.
Earlier this month, Senator Mark Schoesler and Senator Rodney Tom were both given awards as Legislators of the Year by the Association of Washington Business.
The awards honor the historic bipartisan work by both Senators during 2013 Legislative Session by holding the line against more taxes and regulations. The Senators received the awards from Governor Jay Inslee, seen on the left in the picture above. Doug Bayne, chairman of the AWB, is on the right.
Join the Fight Against Gridlock
Gridlock—it happens on the road and it happens in government.
Effective transportation is critical to both citizens’ quality of life and our statewide economic health. But transportation reform has not budged much of late. Today I want to talk a little about my goals for improving transportation, and I hope you will take the time to share your views as well.
Why Transportation Reform?
In recent months I’ve been working closely with my colleagues in our bipartisan Senate Majority Coalition Caucus as well as with concerned citizens around the state to come up with sound solutions to get Washington moving more efficiently. It’s important because Washington’s economy depends on efficient and quick business freight mobility and improved commutes for our workforce.
Even though you might say that traffic congestion on our side of the state isn’t as glaring a problem as it is elsewhere, it is certainly crucial to our local economy for people and goods to be able to move quickly and safely.
Reforming Transportation: Where to Start
But our transportation problems are complex and extend beyond decaying infrastructure: citizens like you and me are tired of seeing our money wasted on poor project planning and political gridlock.
Before we get to planning more projects and potentially adding more funding for transportation we must make sure taxpayer dollars are being used wisely.
There have been several recent examples of projects that have unnecessarily been over-budget or delayed. The State Route 520 bridge replacement project is both behind schedule and over-budget because of design flaws. Seattle’s tunnel boring project has been delayed weeks because of a labor dispute over dirt removal. And the already expensive Columbia River Crossing project has failed in part because planners did not listen to local concerns about including costly light rail that resulted in a bridge design too low to accommodate some Washington shipping businesses.
The Democrats’ solution to our transportation challenges is to raise more revenue now by increasing taxes (a 10.5 cent increase to the gas tax has been on the table and also supported by Governor Inslee).
Yet Washingtonians have made it clear that they do not want more and higher taxes. Their resounding voice at the polls— nearly 64 percent supported a two-thirds Legislative majority to raise taxes in November—indicated that government needs more oversight when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. I agree.
Your Views on Transportation Reform
To help us understand better the transportation priorities of people around the state, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is continuing to hold a statewide transportation listening tour to find out what’s truly important to citizens when it comes to transportation infrastructure.
The tour, led by Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chair Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), is open to the public and designed to gather input so that we can come up with smart solutions supported by both lawmakers and taxpayers.
There have already been several stops in this tour already. The next one near the 9th District will be in Spokane:
October 2 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Greater Spokane, Inc.
801 W. Riverside, Spokane
I encourage you to join us—your input is invaluable.
We don’t need a quick fix—we need long-term solutions that will accommodate population and economic growth long into the future.
So, my colleagues and I in the Majority Coalition Caucus stand by our pledge to “fix it before fund it.” We must reform how government manages these projects and prove to taxpayers that they are worthy of their investment.
As always, thank you for your support as I continue the honor of representing the 9th District in Olympia. I hope to see and hear from you soon.