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31st District Representatives sum up Olympia session | Chris Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist
Editor’s Note: the 31st Legislative District legislators have been given the opportunity to provide an end-of-session report. Last week, Sen. Pam Roach offered her synopsis of the 60-day session that adjourned March 13. This week Reps. Christopher Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist submit their report.
By Rep. Christopher Hurst
I am happy to report that the Legislature got its work done on time this year and passed a bipartisan supplemental budget that increased funding for education without raising taxes.
The article by Sen. Roach last week indicating that the House passed a budget requiring $100 million in new taxes is simply uninformed and inaccurate. In fact, this budget left $315 million in unrestricted reserves and $583 million in our state’s Rainy Day Fund. The Senate Majority Coalition that Sen. Roach referred to, which is led by Democrat Majority Leader Rodney Tom of Medina and Democrat Speaker Pro-tem Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, worked with Democrats and Republicans in the House from the beginning of session to come up with this agreed upon and collaborative supplemental budget. As in all negotiated processes, no one got everything they wanted, but the final product was fair and responsible.
Due to the current makeup of the House and the Senate, this was a legislative session that was notable because so many moderate, middle-of-the-road and common sense pieces of legislation passed fairly easily. The more radical views from the extreme right and the extreme left failed to make it through the process. As a fiscally conservative Independent Democrat, I was very pleased with the tone and tenor of most of the legislation that made it to the governor’s desk.
As Chairman of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee in the House, one of my top priorities was to pass legislation that would combat the theft of hard alcohol by juveniles from retail stores after the passage of the liquor privatization initiative in 2012. House Bill 2155 sponsored by my seat mate, Rep. Cathy Dahlquist and I, will now hold retailers accountable if they allow liquor to get into the hands of those who are underage. Retailers who do not keep their spirits properly secured and out of the hands of kids will face sanctions up to and including loss of their license to sell alcohol. This is an important public safety measure that will help protect all of us and reduce drunk driving fatalities and injuries related to juvenile alcohol abuse.
For folks who have family members heading off to college, you will be happy to know that we placed a freeze on tuition increases. We also opened up needs grants to more students and added an additional $5 million in funding so everyone can share in the American dream. Educational opportunities are crucial to the success of the next generation and important to our overall economic future.
One sad note from this session was the failure of the Senate to pass the supplemental Capital Budget, which passed almost unanimously in the House. This hasn’t happened in 18 years. The biennial Capital Budget pays for important infrastructure projects like flood control, prisons, water systems, waste water treatment plants and schools. Senators said that this year’s supplemental budget was a waste of money. I disagree. Our public health and safety is put at risk when we don’t keep our infrastructure in good condition. Although it would be cheaper to ignore flooding and natural disasters, have kids go to school in grass and mud huts, and for people to use outhouses instead of flush toilets, I don’t think that’s the kind of future we want.
By Rep. Cathy Dahlquist
As a second-term state legislator, I am pleased with the evolution of the budgeting process and with being a part of a bipartisan group committed to doing what is right for education and the most vulnerable.
Like the 2013 legislative session, the 60-day, 2014 session had some hits and some misses.
A few positives are we were able to pass with a strong bipartisan vote a supplemental state operating budget focused on K-12 education, higher education, early learning, child care, long-term care, mental health and people with developmental disabilities. Not only is it balanced over the 2013-15 budget cycle, but through the 2015-17 budget – a first due to legislation requiring lawmakers to pass a two-year budget that is sustainable for four years.
As a mother who just sending her youngest daughter off to college this fall, I know many parents will appreciate that the budget passed held the line on college tuition so students and families won’t have to pay more.
A final positive note of many: Not only did the budget balance after putting additional investments in core functions and services we expect of government, but for the first time since 2009, state lawmakers are not facing a special session.
However, we could have tackled more legislation to encourage employers to retain and hire more employees. A strong economy relies on a healthy business climate that signals to businesses that we welcome growth and expansion. One miss is a bill to enact meaningful workers’ compensation reform (Senate Bill 5127). Ask any employer in this state if we need reforms within the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system and they will say “yes.” It is an issue we hear about year after year; it is way past time to act.
The loss of our ‘No Child Left Behind’ waiver because of a one-word change in how student performance would be measured in teacher and principal evaluations will now result in the loss of at least $38 million in federal funding for teachers and vulnerable students. These Title I dollars go directly to schools to help those students struggling the most – the ones we do not want left behind.
With all the talk of a transportation tax package this year, I was surprised that no movement was made on critical transportation reforms. Before we ask taxpayers for more, we must ensure gas tax dollars are maximized and the Washington State Department of Transportation is held accountable for the many costly mistakes (Bertha shutdown, faulty 520 Bridge pontoons – including cost overruns, waste in the ferry system).
Finally, the Legislature did not act on any measure that would help people who have been negatively impacted by Obamacare. Roughly 290,000 residents received cancellation notices and untold numbers have been affected by the inability to keep their doctors, higher premiums, less choice and confusion within the program. Nothing is more personal to us than our health care and the least we can do is pass some measures that help those who need an option that is not available in Obamacare.
In all, it was a good balance – a compromise – this session to find middle ground. My hope is this progress continues as we move into the next two-year budget negotiations in 2015.