Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 176 long days, the Legislature has finally adjourned for good. The operating budget was passed last week and averted a government shutdown (though I never believed it would come to that), a transportation package was passed to invest in the future of our economy, and the capital budget makes important investments in our communities and state infrastructure. Read more about them below.
Operating budget – no major tax increases, major investments in education and mental health
Though it took six months to find a compromise, the final outcome is a budget that benefits the people of our state the most. I was one of three budget negotiators for House Republicans, and I'm really pleased the taxpayers were protected despite proposals for major tax increases from the other side. The budget does also close some tax incentives that don't make sense anymore.
We made the largest investment in education in decades – education now rightly makes up 48 percent of our state budget. Our state constitution mandates that education be the paramount duty of the state, and this puts us in line with that mandate. The budget also provides for modest and overdue salary increases for teachers, certified staff and state employees.
For the first time ever in state history, the budget provides for a cut in higher education tuition. College students and their families will see a 5-15 percent reduction in their tuition starting this fall. This will really make a difference for middle class families who may not qualify for a lot of financial aid, but are really pinched trying to pay for all of the costs of college on their own. This is something Republicans fought hard for in negotiations, because we know how crucial education is to more opportunities in life.
Mental health also received overdue investments that not only respond to a few court rulings, but to live up to our moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable in our society. This will also help prevent future tragedies like those we have seen in our own communities.
The long delay and final outcome of the budget shows two things. One, a divided government (House controlled by Democrats and Senate controlled by Republicans) means solutions take a little longer. Two, compromise is required and usually results in the best outcome for everyone. Give and take is critical. This budget isn't perfect, but as my colleague Rep. Bruce Chandler (our Republican lead on the budget) said, “this provides a statewide road map to the future.”
Transportation package will invest in economy, provide relief for 2nd District commuters
Last week, the House passed a transportation tax package that will invest in our state's infrastructure. I voted “yes,” because I believe it provides jobs and traffic relief along with critical reforms to our state Department of Transportation.
My three priorities with the transportation package have been:
- strong reforms
- meaningful projects for our area
- no low-carbon fuel standard
One of my favorite family photos that I have in my office is of my great-grandfather driving to Yelm, with a four-foot Spruce across the road. The early history of Washington was greatly focused on building roads so people could gain access to jobs, trade and each other. Living in a district with high unemployment, many see the need for infrastructure to grow our local economy. I know from experience in my business that few major employers would consider locating in our area without better access to major highways.
If you commute through Joint-Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) on I-5 or on State Route 167, you have spent a lot of time sitting on the road. In our district, this package will provide:
- $1.6 billion to complete SR-167 all the way to the port of Tacoma;
- $450 million for relief on I-5 through JBLM;
- $72 million to rebuild the SR-510/Marvin Road interchange; and
- $58.5 million for the Yelm Bypass.
Equally as important as the projects for our area are the reforms tied to this package. As one of two negotiators for House Republicans, we fought hard for these reforms:
- Preventing future projects from paying the sales tax and essentially diverting transportation funds to the general fund for other services.
- Suspending the implementation of a low-carbon fuel standard Gov. Inslee has been pushing. This is major because it could add to your fuel costs if implemented.
- Providing streamlined permitting and helping to prevent cost burdens to the state with mega projects.
- Prohibiting these new dollars from being used on the failures of the Bertha tunnel project in Seattle.
There are a total of nine bills passed that will change the way our state does business in transportation design, construction and maintenance. I've always said “fix it before you fund it,” and I believe these reforms will make important fixes that you deserve as taxpayers and drivers.
This was not an easy vote for me whatsoever. It's probably the most difficult vote I've ever taken, because I understand (and heard from) both sides. I know there are heavy costs to the people. But I think the reforms will make a difference, and if the result of this investment is to bring more jobs to our rural areas, then it will be worth it for our state in the long run.
Capital budget – important community investments
- Yelm Community Center – $1.5 million
- Stan & Joan Cross Park in Frederickson – $750,000
- Orting Soldiers' Home Cemetery – $250,000 (this was thanks to my seatmate, Rep. Graham Hunt)
- Gratz Park ball fields in Orting – $200,000
- Yelm Senior Center – $80,000
As we adjourn, I want to remind you I represent you all-year round, not just when the Legislature is in session. Please feel free to contact my office anytime with questions, comments or concerns. My legislative assistant, Sharon, or I am happy to help you navigate government or hear your ideas to make our state a better place to work and live. It's an honor to serve you.