Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We're starting the tenth week of the legislative session, having passed a Wednesday deadline for House-introduced bills to be voted out of the House. There were some late nights last week and the week before. Now we're back to our committees, holding hearings on Senate bills.
Please take a short survey on the minimum wage
The week before last, the House narrowly passed a bill to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2019 (and raise it every year after that according to the rate of inflation). I and many of my colleagues voted against it because we believe it will hurt rural and lower-income areas more, and negatively impact our youth unemployment rate which is already far higher than the national average. In fact, we tried to amend the bill to allow a lower training wage for younger workers, but we were unsuccessful.
The minimum wage bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration. Additionally, a wealthy Democratic Party donor says he plans to put a $16-per-hour statewide minimum wage on the ballot in 2016, so this issue will be ongoing.
I would like to know your opinion on minimum wage. Please take a short, three-question survey — you can click here or on the button to the right. I appreciate your input.
House floor action
The House last week wrapped up eight days of voting on the House floor. Although things generally went well and most of the bills passed with bipartisan support, I was disappointed by the way the debate was conducted by the majority party. In several cases, the Democratic leadership cut off debate on issues important to our state.
For example, a bill of mine that finally passed on Tuesday would create a task force to study the merits of letting school districts build new schools outside of their urban growth boundaries. My original bill, which I sponsored at the request of the Bethel School District, would have allowed such building to go ahead immediately but in order to get Democratic support we had to compromise with a study.
Our debate on the House floor was interrupted by the majority party when the discussion touched on the many problems the Growth Management Act (GMA) has caused. We were told there would be no vote on my bill if we kept talking about the GMA. The bill was eventually approved, but it seemed wrong that we weren't allowed to have an open discussion merely because the majority party felt uncomfortable with the topic. You can watch the floor debate on the bill here.
Are we under-taxed?
This session, a recurring theme from the governor and some of the members across the aisle is that state government isn't collecting enough tax revenues. They argue that, as a share of personal income, state and local tax collection in Washington has gone from 11th highest in the nation in the mid-1990s to 35th today. They say there isn't enough money to pay for all the services Washingtonians expect.
Now, you won't get any argument from me about the need for reforming our state's tax structure. It is true that Washington has many more wealthy residents than it did 20 years ago; much of that wealth is concentrated in the greater Seattle area. The tax burden should be spread fairly across all citizens, and not borne disproportionately by the middle class or lower-income people.
But I don't believe the goal should be to increase people's taxes. It should be to make our tax system fairer. With the exception of the gas tax which the governor is proposing to replace with a carbon tax, all the new taxes and tax hikes would be added on top of the already existing taxes.
I believe strongly that it is my job to work hard to do the most with existing revenues and be as efficient as we possibly can with those dollars. If we ever ask for more it should only be as a last resort and to pay for solid assets for the people of Washington.
Tell me what you think. Do you think the state of Washington doesn't collect enough taxes, or do you think the government should be more careful about how it spends tax dollars? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's all for this week. Thank you for your time, and it is an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.