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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week, after 176 days in session, the Legislature finally adjourned for the year. Though it took three special sessions to get the job done, I am proud to say we made tough choices and passed legislation that benefits people in the 28th District and in every corner of the state. The work we did places Washington on the path to a bright and prosperous future.
State operating budget
The 2015-17 operating budget reflects the priorities you sent me here to fight for, including: students, teachers, veterans and transportation. The bipartisan budget prioritizes spending and utilizes more than $3.2 billion in increased revenue to invest in K-12 education, reduce college tuition for the first time in decades, fund teacher and state employees COLAs, and make important investments in mental health services – all without raising taxes.
Here are a few highlights of the 2015-17 operating budget:
- An additional $1.3 billion for K-12 basic education, meeting the state's constitutional obligations, including:
- $350 million to reduce K-3 class sizes, $180 million to expand full-day kindergarten, and $740 million for materials, supplies, and operating costs.
- Fully funds the I-732 teacher COLA at maintenance level ($232 million for 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent) and an additional one-time COLA ($153 million for 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent) to provide an overall K-12 COLA of 3 percent and 1.8 percent.
- Reduces tuition by 15 percent at research institutions such as WSU and UW, 20 percent at regional universities, and 5 percent at community and technical colleges (state need grant awards to private institutions are unaffected).
- No capital gains income tax, no carbon tax, no low carbon fuel standard, no tax increases on small businesses, and no tax on bottled water, all of which were proposed by the governor and House majority party this year.
Road work ahead
This session, we made an important investment in Washington's future by passing a transportation package to fund projects across the state. I supported the bipartisan transportation package because it invests in projects important to our region, including alleviating the bottle neck at JBLM which will help prevent further troop reductions proposed by the Department of Defense. Improvements to the I-5/JBLM corridor include construction of extra lanes, new exits and railroad grade separation. Beginning in the 2015-17 biennium, and continuing through 2025, we will invest more than $450 million to improve safety and provide congestion relief to this heavily-traveled corridor. These investments are critical to the economic vitality of our district.
I was pleased to support the reforms in this package, including eliminating the costly low carbon fuel standards proposed by the governor, which will ensure all of our gas tax dollars go toward transportation projects. We also passed reforms to streamline the permitting process to help prevent cost overruns, and make congestion relief a priority for WSDOT. This package shows we can move Washington forward by making tough choices and working together.
Bills of interest
In addition to supporting a $1.3 billion increase in K-12 funding this year, I also worked to modernize Washington's classrooms. I co-sponsored House Bill 1813 to require the Professional Educator Standards Board to adopt standards for computer science learning in our schools. Teachers can work toward an endorsement in this field as well. If we want a 21st Century economy, we need 21st Century classrooms. This is a good step in that direction.
I also fought to secure opportunities to assist veterans and their families as they transition home after serving in America's longest war. House Bill 1241 will give businesses a $1,500 tax credit for hiring an unemployed veteran, and I am pleased to report my proposal was included in the operating budget. House Bill 1052, which I co-sponsored, requires higher education institutions to allow military spouses of active duty service members to register early for classes. This bill takes effect on July 24, 2015.
I also introduced House Bill 1149, which would help gather data on how deployments and training cycles affect student learning and behavior in the classroom and would enable the Department of Defense to make better decisions about how to assist military families. Finally, House Bill 1150 requires the Washington Department of Social and Health Services to notify the Department of Defense in cases of child abuse of a military dependent. This reform will help get families the services they need, many of which are already paid for by the federal government. Further, it will save state taxpayers from being double billed for these programs. Ultimately, the Senate version of these bills were passed and signed into law. They take effect August 27, 2015.
Keeping in touch
While the legislative session is over, please remember I'm your state representative year-round. I'm here to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government. Please always feel free to contact my office to schedule a time to meet or if you would like me to attend or speak at an event. My office number is (360) 786-7890.
424 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7890 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000