Humbled by Education Honor
There are few things more important to the future of our great state than education. It’s essential that we create opportunities for Washington’s youth to maximize their potential and, consequently, build a brighter economic future for our communities.
As Senate Republican Leader, I’ve worked hard alongside other members of the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) to maintain affordability in our state colleges and universities. Recently, I was humbled to receive the Legislator of the Year award from the Associated Students of Washington State University. I spoke at a recent meeting about my work in higher education, and the MCC’s success freezing tuition for the last two years after nearly 30 years of dramatic annual tuition increases. Reforms in government spending will ensure that we can stop or slow these past increases and invest properly in our state’s higher education.
Green Promises Loom
Apparently, Governor Inslee’s new number one issue is climate change and green energy. Although he campaigned on promises of improving education and the economy, his energy is most certainly centered on the environment. Like I’ve said before, finding common sense, market-based solutions to protecting our environment is important. There are, however, critical issues our state and nation is facing from spending reform to the economy to education.
I’ve written recently about Governor Inslee’s sweeping increases to our state’s water quality standards, and now he’s also proposing a carbon emissions tax. Both will increase regulations and taxes and will hit small business and the middle class the hardest.
His agenda fits in perfectly with that of California billionaire and green activist, Tom Steyer, who is putting big money in Washington State to try and regain Democratic control of the State Senate. Steyer is investing in numerous states where his money has a chance to influence state politics to fulfill his climate change agenda. If the Democrats regain control of the Senate, it would make it very easy for the Governor to achieve his costly, green goals.
Steyer is investing at least $1.25 million into Washington state elections. Much of Steyer’s money was given to the Washington branch of his NextGen Climate Action Committee, and he donated another $50,000 to the Kennedy Fund, a political action committee that supports Democrats in the State Senate.
This is a huge boost for local Democratic campaigns. But while it furthers Steyer’s and Governor Inslee’s political interests, it will certainly increase the bottom lines for working Washington families. Governor Inslee’s solutions to environmental challenges lack scientific evidence and market-sound common sense.
Governor Inslee’s proposed carbon tax will increase the price of gas, diesel, natural gas and electricity. And, historically, gas prices have a sweeping effect on the economy and on the taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
Although a detailed proposal hasn’t been submitted to the Legislature yet, the Governor’s Climate Change task force is hard at work. In the meantime, Washington State Economists researched the effects of a carbon tax at the level that would reach Governor Inslee’s climate change goals. The results were astounding–the hypothetical tax would increase gas prices by nearly 60 percent and natural gas prices by 35 percent.
Friends, I consistently hear from constituents who are struggling daily to meet the rising costs of government regulation and increased taxes on the state and federal level. As lawmakers, we need to prioritize better, spend smarter, and steward taxpayer resources as we would our own budgets. Environmental stewardship is also important, but drastic increases in regulations and taxes are not the way to do this.
Although temperatures outside are deceptive, we are at the doorstep of fall. One of my favorite seasons, fall brings harvest, football (Go Hawks and Cougs) and the approach of the warmth of the holiday season. Amidst the flurry of back to school and the busyness that the season brings, it’s important that we don’t forget another critical election season is right around the corner.
Although it’s hard to predict the outcome of the general election based on the primary showing, this year’s August primary seemed to favor the Republicans. Nonetheless, it’s important that we support business-friendly candidates in critical elections across the state and work to get out the vote to ensure balance in Olympia.
The mid-term elections might not seem as critical as a presidential election year, but the November 4 General Election could decide who controls the State Senate and, most importantly, whether or not there is balance in the State Legislature.
As you probably already know, the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats. The Senate, however, has been controlled by the bipartisan Majority Coalition Caucus, a group of Republicans and Democrats united together to form a caucus dedicated to the creation of a government that lives within its means, grows jobs and economic vitality, and improves education. The MCC is focused on policy, not politics.
The MCC also provides balance to the House and a concerted effort to refocus your State Legislature on sound policies that support Washington State’s economic progress and the taxpayer’s pocketbook while working to advance opportunities for small business and education.
Here are a handful of key races to watch and support, if possible:
- 35th District: Mason and Parts of Kitsap and Thurston Counties. This race is tight and pits Tim Sheldon (D, MCC member) against challenger Irene Bowling (D). Senator Sheldon has been a long time supporter of common sense solutions to inappropriate government spending, even when it requires going against his own party. As a business owner and farmer himself, Senator Sheldon truly understands the challenges facing individuals struggling to support their families, grow their businesses, and build legacies. Senator Sheldon is facing an uphill battle, as the Senate Democrat’s Political Action Committee has invested a lot of money to elect Irene Bowling, Sheldon’s challenger.
- Bellingham’s 42nd District pits incumbent Republican Senator Doug Ericksen against challenging Democrat Seth Fleetwood. Senator Ericksen has been a solid voice for limited taxes, efficiency in government spending, property rights and land use issues and sensible solutions to environmental protections.
- Republican Mark Miloscia is facing Democrat Shari Song in the 30th District, which includes most of Federal Way. The District is up for grabs as incumbent Democrat Tracy Eide is not running for re-election. Mr. Miloscia served seven terms in the House of Representatives, where he was dedicated to reforming government spending and improving education.
- Incumbent Senator Steve O’Ban (R) is facing challenger Tami Green in the 28th District. Sen. O’Ban’s legislative record has been dedicated to improving education, protecting at-risk youth, stewarding spending to improve transportation and supporting our servicemen and women.
- Incumbent Republican Senator Andy Hill is facing a fierce battle this election season against Democrat challenger Matt Isenhower. Sen. Hill has an outstanding record of battling wasteful government spending and helping to create a sustainable budget in Olympia. He is a key part of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
- Incumbent Senator Michael Baumgartner (R) is a strong voice on the MCC for budget reform, sound economic policies and protecting our state’s veterans and seniors. He represents the 6th District, which borders the 9th District and covers part of Spokane. Rich Cowan (D) is challenging Sen. Baumgartner’s Republican hold in the MCC.
The above races are all in battleground districts for the Majority Coalition Caucus. I challenge you to do your part to support these worthy candidates and encourage informed voting. We can all do our part to preserve a balanced voice in the State Legislature.
There’s a lot at stake the November. Depending on who wins these elections, we may continue to put more money into education and implement budget reforms, or we may go backward. We may be able to hold the line on new taxes, or we may go back to leadership that keeps taking more and more from taxpayers.
Another aspect of what’s at stake is obvious in a piece in the Seattle Times this week. It talks about the push to adopt so called clean-fuel standards. This move would cause a significant increase to gas prices and essentially just be another tax. Here’s an excerpt from the article that gives you an idea of what’s at stake here:
The Washington Coalition for Clean Fuels Jobs lists supporters ranging from labor unions to clean energy businesses and environmental advocacy groups. The group’s website says fuel standards would pump money into the local economy, clean up the air and cut carbon emissions.
But Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, dismisses the coalition and questions its motives.
“They’re a front group that was created at the same time that the governor created his task force,” Schoesler said Tuesday afternoon.
And Schoesler repeated earlier Republican criticisms that clean-fuel standards would raise transportation costs; he urged the state to look at “smart, market-based ways to include air quality and environment.”
Schoesler earlier this year wrote an opinion piece criticizing the governor for not representing Eastern Washington on his climate-change task force. And the list of signatures on Tuesday’s letter reads like a who’s who of the Puget Sound: officials from King, Kitsap and Thurston counties, Bellingham, Everett, Kent, SeaTac, and Seattle, among others. Besides a handful of progressive Spokane City Council members, the letter doesn’t much represent Eastern Washington.
“It’s all pretty predictable,” Schoesler said.
This is just one example of an issue whose outcome is dependent on the elections this fall.
I will continue to keep you informed about major issues such as these in the months to come.
Important Dates to Remember:
Issue Focus: Fish Consumption Rules
Here in Ritzville we’re in the middle of wheat harvest season. As a fifth-generation Washington wheat farmer, my work in the field is a constant reminder of the need for lawmakers to work with our farmers, producers, business owners and various industry champions.
I am proud to have recently received a Certificate of Commendation from the Washington Farm Bureau. This particular acknowledgment honors state lawmakers who support critical agricultural-related legislation. The Farm Bureau represents more than 41,000 member families throughout the state, and is essential to the continued success of our state’s thriving agricultural industry. Below are the two bills I worked on in the 2014 Legislative Session that earned the Farm Bureau’s recognition:
- Supported Senate Bill 6087, the agricultural water quality bill, and;
- Helped to defeat Senate Bill 6246, the maritime heritage area bill.
I also have received an “In the Bag!” award from the Washington Food Industry Association. This organization represents smaller and independent grocers. Their award recognizes my pro-agricultural voting record and leadership.
Agriculture is Under Attack Again
Unfortunately, a recent proposal from Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology has the potential to hurt jobs and economic growth here in our state. The proposed update to Washington’s water quality standards is a drastic increase from current standards set in place in 1992.
While the federal Clean Water Act, enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requires states to adopt appropriate water quality standards, many are concerned about the lack of data, and science behind the extreme standards and regulations proposed.
The Governor is proposing to increase the current average fish consumption (from Washington rivers and lakes) from about a quarter of an ounce per day, per person, to about 6 ounces a day, per person. Simply put, the new rule assumes Washington residents eat 23 meals per month that include a half pound of fish and shellfish from Washington waters. That’s nearly 27 times the current rate and, again, it assumes this fish consumption is all from Washington rivers and lakes.
The proposal also increases the cancer risk rate as a result of fish consumption from one in a million to one in 100,000. Seventy percent of the chemicals currently regulated will be more restricted—even arsenic, which is a naturally occurring toxin in Washington water.
I agree that it’s critical to analyze and address our state’s water quality and implement higher standards as necessary. It is critical, however, that any new standards balance a cleaner environment with protecting family budgets, economic opportunity and jobs. And, it’s imperative that we don’t arbitrarily choose numbers, but through careful research and scientific support, we arrive at a reasonable rate of consumption and risk of disease.
Alarmingly, the city of Bellingham estimates that sewer bills will increase by $200 per month if the consumption rule passes. This is legislation that will risk jobs and hurt struggling Washington families.
We must demand that Governor Inslee and the DOE produce more details and information before these rules progress any further:
- Where is the scientific data? The Governor has revealed his plan, but the legislative language has not yet been released.
- What about the large percentage of fish and shellfish that Washingtonians eat that is farm raised or originated outside Washington waters? Recognizing this number is high, how is it possible to accurately assess the health risks?
- What will be the economic impact of the required implementation of technology and increased regulation for cities, counties and business, respectively?
- What will be the economic burden on taxpayers? Major industry leaders maintain that passing these stringent standards will cost Washington jobs.
The preliminary draft should be finished by September 30. The Legislature will have time to review comments from business, industry and the public as well as examine the policy during the 2015 Legislative Session.
In addition to all this, there is another crisis in agriculture: wheat farmers are being forced to stockpile goods as a labor dispute at the Port of Vancouver has slowed exports to a stall. The situation could be severe for Washington’s $1.2 billion wheat industry–especially out here in Eastern Washington. What makes matters worse is that Governor Inslee has backed off of providing escorts to grain-inspectors, a move that is hurting the industry and could have damaging effects on our local economy.
If you want to read more about this crisis, click here.
As always, I’ll keep you posted on these issues as they progress. I encourage you to be informed, as this legislation could have sweeping effects on Washington’s economic health. It could hit close to home via increased sewer costs but also cripple major job producers such as Boeing and the homebuilding industry.
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,