July 2013

Marching Through the Status Quo to Progress

Washington’s citizen Legislature–split between the Democratic House and Senate Republican control–finally and painfully concluded one of the most difficult legislative seasons in decades. We passed a decidedly mixed two-year operating budget but failed to pass a much-needed transportation budget. Despite a historic expansion of Medicaid and a respectable spending plan, we failed to pass Democratic policy priorities of the Dream Act, gun safety, the Reproductive Parity Act, or Republican priorities of additional worker’s compensation reforms or legal budget spending limits. The year was defined by a fervent inability to move forward with either party’s broader agenda. It was a recognition for all that neither side is backing down.

Here are some of the high-level wins and losses from this session.



The Final Budget: A Win for Kids and Higher Ed

While the final budget was clearly a win for our state’s 1 million school kids and higher education, it accomplishes those goals with a series of financial yoga moves to sweep capital and public infrastructure accounts instead of responsibly closing economically questionable tax exemptions. Altogether, we are striving to put an additional $4.5 billion in basic education by 2018. We are investing an additional $1.03 billion for our state’s 1 million school kids this biennium. This money will make an enormous difference in classrooms by giving students the materials they need to learn ($374 million), providing extra assistance for low-achieving students that ultimately helps decrease drop-out rates ($143 million), expanding all-day kindergarten ($90 million), reducing class sizes for early grades in elementary school ($104 million) and much more.

It’s a meaningful step forward and we’re proud of the progress.


Major Disappointment: Transportation

The Legislature’s outright failure to pass a transportation budget is a major disappointment that has awful implications for our community.  King County Metro bus service faces the increasing prospect of cutting service by 17% in the fall of 2014. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rep. Gael Tarleton and I will be working very hard to resolve this crisis.

Reuven in the Media:


Reforming Tax Exemptions

Watch my floor speech on tax exemption reform

As chair of the House Finance Committee, my central goal is to radically improve the analytical rigor with which the Legislature considers tax exemptions, credits, preferential rates and basic tax structure changes. An industry should receive such an exemption only if it has a demonstrable return on investment for the public. It’s only fair to taxpayers.

I’m happy to report that I’ve made substantial progress in that arena. As part of Senate Bill 5882 – which has already been signed into law — all new tax preferences must have expiration dates of 10 years of less and must clearly state their intent. The bill also creates performance metrics to measure the effectiveness of the exemptions and the amount claimed under the exemptions must be disclosed (amazingly this is not the case for nearly all exemptions previously on the books.) All related exemption data is transparent and disclosable. This is a significant achievement for honest governance.

Reuven in the Media:


Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth

I’m thrilled that we passed HB 1566. It’s a modest but hugely important law that provides foster youth with education liaisons – people who can act as their advocates and anchors as they make they way through middle school and high school. Fewer than half of foster youth – just 46% – graduate from high school, a far cry from the overall Washington rate of 71%. We owe them more than that. It is my hope that these newly created educational champions will empower our foster youth to get the education they deserve.

Reuven in the Media:


Pushing Back on Coal Exports

Right now there is a proposal to transform the Pacific Northwest into the biggest coal exporter on the planet. This would comprehensively change our state, our region, and our planet, and yet the federal government recently decided a comprehensive review wasn’t necessary. Now the states must step up to ensure the full economic, environmental, transportation and health impacts are fully understood before a single permit is approved. For instance, what would be greater: The gain in jobs — or the cost of clogged railways, the construction of additional street bypasses and diminished real estate values? Would coal be a net gain or drain for Washington?

No one can answer these questions. And it’s wholly irresponsible to transform our state without first being able to address them. I have been leading the charge against these expansive coal exports in the Legislature and will continue to do so.

Reuven in the Media:


Join Your Legislative Team for a Town Hall

You are invited to join your 36th District legislative team – Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rep. Gael Tarleton and me – for a community town hall 11 a.m. on July 27. In the beautiful Community Hall of the Phinney Neighborhood Association (6615 Dayton Ave S), we’ll be unpacking the session, its impacts and engaging in a community conversation about our future. Everyone is welcome!


Before Us: Breaking Free from Radical Indifference

The work before us now is less about who won the tactical battles and more about a broader discovery that Democrats and Republicans would do well to reconsider the institutional grip of our state’s political interests. The broader philosophical challenge–the more systemic issue– is to recognize that our state’s approach to policy initiatives has become paralyzed with a radical indifference to action. We so embrace incrementalism that any bold step forward, any meaningful legislative initiative, any large-scale legislation from one side is by nature easy to defeat by the other. Certainly no one deserves a profile in courage award this year for defeating the status quo.

We are so much more than what we’ve become.


Washington State House Democrats

The information on these pages was created by House staff for legislative purposes and is a historical record of legislative events and activities. None of this material is intended to either directly or indirectly assist any campaign for office or ballot proposition. RCW 42.52.180 prohibits the use of public resources for campaign purposes.