Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I wanted to begin this email update by talking about a couple pieces of good news.
First, thanks to the good work done by 2017-19 transportation budget negotiators, the funding schedule for the $58.5 million SR 510/Yelm Loop project has been accelerated by two years. This project will complete the second stage of a new alignment for SR 510 through Yelm, relieving congestion and improving safety for commuters. Instead of construction being completed in 2025, it should now be completed by the end of 2023.
The second piece of mostly good news is Rep. Bob McCaslin's House Bill 1017 was signed into law by Gov. Inslee late last month. This bill will modify the Growth Management Act (GMA) so schools can be built and expanded beyond the GMA's urban growth boundaries in Pierce County. That's incredibly important for those of you in the Bethel School District, in particular, as The News Tribune explains in this piece from last year. Unfortunately, school districts outside of Pierce County will not be affected by this bill. In a surprising move, the governor vetoed the section in the bill that would've implemented a statewide solution. As someone who's worked on this issue for the past four years, it's frustrating to know school districts outside of Pierce County will have to continue to wait for a solution of their own.
The latest on ST3
As I mentioned in my last email update, House Republicans have been fighting to provide relief to those affected by last year's passage of Sound Transit 3 (ST3). When the 2017-19 transportation budget came to the House floor for a vote last month, we attempted to introduce several amendments to it, including:
Amendment 416 to allow cities and counties to opt out of all ST3 taxes.
Amendment 420 to require Sound Transit to assess vehicles using their Kelley Blue Book (KBB) value when assessing the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).
Amendment 421 to prohibit Sound Transit from issuing any new bonds without receiving legislative approval first.
Amendment 422 to require Sound Transit to assess vehicles using their KBB value if using the Department of Licensing (DOL) to collect the MVET.
Amendment 423 to prohibit the DOL from collecting the MVET from residents of cities or counties that choose to opt out of the MVET.
Unfortunately, not a single amendment was adopted by the majority party. Instead, a bill (House Bill 2201) was brought forward to provide a small rebate to vehicle owners who have had to pay massive fee increases. I voted for the bill because some relief is better than none at all, but we could've done a lot more. That said, I can assure you we are not done fighting for you on this issue. I hear your frustrations and share in them, and am hopeful we can find a way for local governments to opt-out of ST3.
Special session under way
Due to a stalemate over tax increases and K-12 education funding, budget negotiators in the House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement on the 2017-19 operating budget before the end of the 105-day regular session. As a result, we are in the middle of a 30-day special session.
House Democrats continue to insist on raising taxes by $8 billion over the next four years, but have still not brought their tax package to the floor for a vote. Since the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) writes the budget this year and is standing firm against any tax increases, it's up to the House Democrats to decide when they're going to accept a deal. The reality, and what I hope they come to realize, is we don't need new tax revenue. We instead need to allocate existing revenue wisely and produce a sustainable two-year budget. I expect them to ultimately take their tax increase proposals off the table, as they did two years ago, but whether they will or not before the end of this first special session remains to be seen.
When it comes to K-12 education funding, both plans would invest billions, building on the $4.6 billion in additional education funding over the last two budget cycles. For the first time since 1983, basic education funding is set to represent more than 50 percent of the operating budget. The major point of contention in the two plans is how K-12 education is funded going forward. House Democrats want to leave the state's regressive education funding system in place, which would likely lead to McCleary 2.0. The SMCC, on the other hand, wants to replace local levies with a flat, statewide property tax. This new funding system would result in equitable funding for students across the state, while also reducing property taxes by hundreds of dollars each year for many taxpayers in property-poor districts like the 2nd.
This special session is not a product of time-wasting or a lack of effort. It's a result of both parties having fundamentally different visions and beliefs on key issues like tax increases and equitable school funding. As someone who is closely monitoring negotiations as the senior participant for the House Republican Caucus leadership team, I'm optimistic a good budget will be produced at the end of the day. Getting there may require more than one special session, however.
Please continue contacting me with your questions and comments on the issues before us in the House. Your feedback is important to me.
It's an honor to serve as your state representative.