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.