December 12, 2012 Legislative Update
Friday, 14 December 2012 09:47
This is the last e-newsletter you will receive from me as your state representative. After two terms I decided not to run for reelection to the state legislature, and my term expires in just a few short weeks. My decision was a tough one but made because of family, health and financial reasons.
Our state has a part-time, citizen legislature. This means a former school board member and small business owner like myself can become a legislator. In fact, every year farmers, teachers, first responders, business owners, nurses, military members, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas from all across the state arrive in Olympia to conduct the people’s business. Some of them are retired from their professions, but many others must take a leave of absence or juggle their outside responsibilities with their legislative duties. After serving in the state House for four years, I leave my position very hopeful about our state’s future, because I have learned there are many smart, dedicated people of both political parties committed to solving the tough issues we face. Earlier in my life I testified before committees of the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress. I am proud to say the professional staff of the Washington State Legislature is every bit as smart, and often smarter, than their federal counterpoints, with a far better attitude and desire to get the job done.
Looking ahead: Education
When the legislative session begins on January 14, one of the issues that will be at the forefront is how the state will fulfill its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t adequately funding our schools (the McCleary decision).
The big question is how the state will meet this obligation. There are differences of opinion about the right path forward. Some believe we can redirect existing state revenues toward education. I agree this must be done first but realistically I do not think it will be enough to fill the gap. Meeting our constitutional duty may require new revenue.
My interest in running for state representative came out of my involvement with my local school board, and a desire to improve our schools so that our students receive an education that prepares them for an ever-changing world. While there is still much to be done, I’m proud of the following recent accomplishments we’ve made to help students better succeed:
· A new teacher/principal evaluation program based on a professional growth program that builds on the strengths of our educators
· Accelerated phase-in of a program that helps children transition successfully from preschool to Kindergarten, and helps teachers better prepare for the particular strengths and weaknesses of each student in their class
· Creation of competitive grant programs for schools that will promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses
I’m also very pleased that the legislation around these accomplishments was supported on a strongly bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate.
Looking ahead: Transportation
It has been a great honor to serve on the House Transportation Committee, helping to shape transportation policy for today and the future. I think this is one of the best run committees in the legislature, usually passing its budget by support from both parties. My main focus on this committee was to keep the projects in our district moving forward, even in the midst of tight budget times.
Like many of you, I’ve been frustrated that after several decades the long-awaited Belfair Bypass project is still not completed. However, for as long as I was on the Transportation Committee, I successfully pushed to ensure that enough funding was allocated for it each year, so that progress was made. I wish it were more. It is extremely important that this project not stall.
With ferry service being important to our district, I also supported the funding of a new 144-car ferry, which made it to the final Transportation budget and will be built soon.
Finally, I’m pleased that ground will be breaking next fall for the planned widening and safety improvements of State Route 3 through Belfair. This project will create new left turn lanes, wider shoulders and sidewalks that will both reduce congestion and improve safety through this important Mason County corridor.
Looking ahead: State budget
The days of shortfalls in the state budget are not quite behind us. While our economy is definitely improving, the state is still not taking in the amount of money it needs to meet all of its coming obligations – particularly when increased education funding is taken into account.
At the moment, it appears legislators will be working to close a projected $900 million shortfall in the state budget when they convene next month. While this amount may seem like a lot of money, it is far less than the nearly $5 billion shortfall we faced in the recent past.
That’s not to say it isn’t a concern. There will be much debate about how to balance the budget, and many of the same challenges that existed in past sessions are still a factor. In addition, as mentioned above legislators will be looking for an extra $1 billion in education funding to meet our constitutional obligations.
Last month, voters approved an initiative requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature to raise taxes, close tax loopholes, or end tax preferences. This two-thirds requirement is a high hurdle to achieve; during my time in the House it was only met once, when a tax preference that only favored large, out-of-state banks finally ended. However, even this did not pass the first year it came up for a vote.
My constituents have sometimes asked me why it only takes a simple majority to create a tax preference, but a super majority to end that same preference. Good question! We have tax preferences in place that have long outlived their usefulness yet continue into perpetuity. That is why I supported legislation this year to periodically review tax preferences to see if they are needed, working, and don't raise unintended consequences. Unfortunately the bill did not pass. This issue will come up again.
There is currently a case before the state Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the two-thirds requirement. It is unknown when the court will issue a ruling, and legislators must forge ahead this January without taking the pending case into consideration. I appreciate opinions of all sides of this issue, because I understand the taxpayers’ demand for fiscal prudence and accountability. As a private business owner for over twenty years I face the same issue every day. And as a legislator I have struggled with the constraints of not being able to close tax loopholes that are not benefiting the people of our state.
This e-newsletter was perhaps a little long, but it’s my last opportunity to connect directly with all the people who signed up to receive emails from me. It has been an enormous honor to represent you, to read, and respond to, your letters and emails, to meet you in the grocery store or at local eateries. I know I didn’t make all of you happy all of the time, but that’s one of the best parts about our democracy – the freedom to disagree. One thing I am pleased about is that our state has not experienced the rancor or paralyzing gridlock that sometimes exists in the other Washington. Here, we really do a pretty good job of working across the aisle. I have spoken to my successor, Drew MacEwen, and will be sharing my files with him so that he may hit the ground running in representing you. However, be assured that I am not passing along your email address.
Since my last e-newsletter to you, our district’s boundaries have changed through redistricting, a process that occurs every ten years. It’s possible you may not even be in the 35th District any longer. If you are unsure, this map may be helpful.
Again, thank you for your four years of trust in me. I am looking forward to once again being an active constituent.