The special legislative session began May 13 and, up to now, only budget negotiators have been in town, with the exception of a couple hours of Senate work on public safety issues.
In this brief legislative update, I am going to remove the “Olympia speak” out of what you read in the media about the special session and explain what it is and how it impacts you.
Special session: What is it and what does it mean to you?
The 30-day special session of the Legislature began May 13. A special session can be called by a vote of the Legislature or ordered by the governor when the Legislature has not finished its business within the constitutionally allotted timeframe, which was 105 days this year. In the case of this special session, it was called by the governor. The special session lasts 30 consecutive days and is typically very narrowly focused; in this case we are tasked with working on the state operating and capital budgets.
Currently, we are in what is called a “rolling session.” This means that only those legislators involved in the budget process and are part of negotiations are in Olympia. This has a two-fold benefit to taxpayers: First, it saves taxpayers a lot of money. And, second, it ensures that those involved in the budget negotiations stay on track.
So, what is going on during the special session right now? Budget negotiations. Getting everyone to the table without the distractions of other policy issues and concentrating on the budget is critical to getting it done. When a deal is struck, the rest of the lawmakers will be called to Olympia to take part in public hearings and vote on the final budget proposal.
To recap, during the scheduled 105-day regular session, which ended April 28, a 2013-15 budget compromise was not reached. The governor and House Democrats want to add roughly $1.3 billion in new and higher taxes to pay for their increased spending plans. The bipartisan Senate Majority Coalition Caucus presented a budget balanced within expected tax collections, which are up $2 billion from the 2011-13 budget cycle, while spending an additional $1 billion on K-12 education, without raising taxes.
In short, the Senate budget would increase spending 6.6 percent and applies $1 billion more to K-12 education, without raising taxes on job-creators. The House Democrats’ and governor’s budget proposals increase spending by 10 percent to use on largely non-education related expenditures that would require $1.3 billion in new and higher taxes.
The philosophical division on the budget, in my view, boils down to this: Do we fund education first and live within our means? Or, do we fund everything else first and then hold out K-12 education as a reason to increase taxes?
This budget impasse potentially impacts you in several ways: Tax increases on small businesses, bottled water (rejected by voters when they tried this in 2010), and other middle-class necessities create uncertainty in the business community, which only serves to stall hiring and jeopardize this fragile economic recovery. Tax increases, when Pierce County has a higher unemployment rate than the state average, is the wrong approach.
In a recent poll by Moore Information, 61 percent of voters do not support tax increases. You can read an article and see the poll results here.
We all know that our roads and highways are key to our economy and personal mobility. Maintaining and building new roads is one of the core functions of government. You may have heard that there is a proposal to raise the gas tax an additional 10 cents per gallon to finance new road and highway projects, including the completion of SR 167 link to the Port of Tacoma. Many business leaders believe the completion of SR 167 is important to keep port jobs here and remain competitive with other ports in the U.S. Others, including myself, want SR 167 completed but are concerned that the Washington State Department of Transportation has not spent our gas tax dollars carefully. We are reluctant to give this agency an additional $9.5 billion until fundamental reforms have been enacted.
Let me know what you think about the gas tax increase proposal to pay for SR 167 and other transportation projects, and the budget negotiations and tax proposals, or anything else that is on your mind. I am here to be your voice in the Legislature.