While a 176 day session may be the longest session in history and a record we didn’t want to set, we were here for a reason — unprecedented investments in education and mental health, a crucial long range transportation plan and vital projects for the 21st district made this long session worth it.
But it wasn’t all successes. For another year, Senate Republicans blocked any real change — or even discussion — about our unfair, regressive tax system that makes middle-class and low-income families pay up to seven times more in taxes than the wealthiest Washingtonians. Instead of asking the wealthy to pay more of their fair share, they actually wanted to hand some more tax breaks to giant corporations. We also left a lot of our environmental priorities unresolved, including some of my top priorities as the vice chair for the House Environment Committee. I will continue to work on these issues, and others, during the interim and look forward to making progress next year.
Most of all, I would like to thank all of the incredible people I got to meet and work with. I am proud to be your state representative from the 21st District.
The Operating Budget
The Great Recession forced the state to severely cut back on many valuable programs and services. The 2015-2017 Operating Budget is a crucial reinvestment in helping many Washingtonians by repairing the safety net, fixing our broken mental health care system, fully funding basic education and restoring services that low-income families, children and seniors depend on.
Mental Health: In what may have been our strongest bi-partisan success in 2015, we restored $100 million in funding for mental health programs that have been unfunded or underfunded for years.
- We developed new plans for getting people outpatient treatment for their psychiatric care, saving us money in the long run while helping those suffering from a mental health crisis.
- We passed Joel’s Law, named for a young man who was killed by police while suffering from a mental health crisis, so that families can petition the court to reconsider decisions about involuntary commitment and get their loved ones the help they require.
- $100 million was allocated for mental health issues in the construction budget. That includes $30 million for grants in local services, increased patient capacity across the state and plans for a 700-bed mental health treatment facility.
Safety Net/TANF: Restoring the Great Recession cuts to the safety net was a top priority for house Democrats, and we did just that.
- $31 million will be restored to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – a 9 percent increase from the last budget.
- $11 million to the State Food Assistance program and Emergency Food Assistance. This isn’t nearly enough to meet the demand, but it’s a strong, positive step in the right direction.
- $75 million is included in the construction budget for the Housing Trust Fund. This program gives funding to a variety of affordable housing projects that are selected through a competitive application process.
State Parks: Our state parks are some of the many resources we have that make Washington a desirable place to live, work, and visit. Outdoor recreation generates $21.6 billion in economic activity and employs 199,000 people each year. State parks took a big hit during the recession. While some Senate Republicans wanted to continue these cuts, we fought for $20 million in new funding to ensure our state parks remain healthy and vibrant. For more information about the great value our state parks provide for Washington, please check out the op-ed I wrote for the Everett Herald about this issue.
This year the Legislature was faced with the challenged of meeting our court-ordered obligation to fully fund basic education for Washington’s one millions schoolchildren. We made historic investments in our public education, but there is still a lot of work left — we didn’t fully fund the costs of Initiative 1351 and we haven’t devoted a new, reliable, dedicated funding source to pay for basic education for our kids. A fair share tax on capital gains from record investment profits by some of the wealthiest 32,000 people in our state would have gone a long way towards ensuring ample education funding for years to come.
However, we have a lot to be proud of. We reduced class sizes in grades K-3, where we know it matters most. Democrats fought to secure our teachers full cost-of-living adjustments, long overdue, because we know we have to offer our teachers a quality salary if we want to attract quality teachers.
Our successes didn’t end there — House Democrats fought to invest in early learning and reduce tuition for all students at every four-year and two-year university, community and technical college in the state, rather than just reduce tuition for students already attending a four-year state university. Our investments help all students from middle-class and low-income families who dream of an education and a better life.
K-12 Education: We made a new investment of $1.3 billion in basic education, the largest increase in school funding in state history. This will go towards K-3 class size reduction, all-day kindergarten, maintenance, supplies, and operating costs. This investment puts us on the right path toward fully funding basic education.
Teachers: Paying teachers adequately is critical to attract high-quality teachers and provide a high-quality education. We funded teacher COLAs to help ensure our educators are actually paid living wages that allow them to teach and raise their own families in Washington.
Higher Education: We are the only state in the nation to actually reduce college tuition. All college students will receive a 5 percent tuition reduction for the 2015-16 school year. For 2016-17, students at UW and WSU will receive an additional 10 percent reduction and students at the regional schools, including our community and technical colleges, will receive an addition 15 percent reduction. Senate Republicans just wanted to ease tuition for students already at one of the state’s big four-year universities, but we didn’t settle until every student got a tuition cut, no matter what university or two-year college their families could afford.
Early Learning: This budget makes more than $159 million in early learning investments to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable kids by expanding the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) enrollments and stabilizing Working Connections Child Care eligibility.
The 2015 Transportation Package invests in comprehensive infrastructure improvements for our state, including $8.8 billion for new projects and $1.3 billion for multi-modal projects such as bike paths, pedestrian walkways and public transit.
Transportation projects in the 21st District include investments in construction and revitalization projects from the Edmonds Waterfront, to the Mukilteo terminal project to SR 99 revitalization in Edmonds.
Mukilteo Terminal Replacement Project: This route has the state’s second highest annual ridership and has not had significant improvements since the early 1980s. The new terminal will add a building for passengers and supervisors, four new toll booths and a new transit center. The project is scheduled for completion in 2019.
Edmonds Waterfront At-Grade Railroad Crossing: Over 30 trains a day block the intersections at Main and Dayton, restricting access to the Senior Center, Edmonds-Kingston Ferry and other important parts of our community. We secured funding to analyze what alternatives there might be to improve emergency access as well as vehicle and pedestrian safety to our waterfront.
Mukilteo Harbour Reach Extension: Funding is provided for a connection of the south end of Harbour Pointe Boulevard to Beverly Park Road and for a three-hundred foot bridge over the stream corridor just off Harbour Pointe Boulevard. These will reduce congestion on SR 525 and allow for easier flow of vehicles and pedestrians in the southern portion of the City.
SR 99 Revitalization in Edmonds: This project will fund improvements along SR 99 including new or wider sidewalks, adding center medians & crosswalks, better storm water management, and targeted utility replacements.
My seat mates, Representative Lillian Ortiz-Self and Senator Marko Liias, and I worked hard on infrastructure issues important to our region.
The state’s new capital budget makes critical infrastructure investment in our communities, including clean-up of the Mukilteo Tank Farm, investments for the Edmonds Center for the Arts and Edmonds Civic Center, and a new Mukilteo Boys & Girls Club.
Mukilteo The Boys & Girls Club: The new Boys & Girls Club building at Harbor Pointe will be a state-of-the-art 25,000 square foot building that will be able to accommodate more than double the current membership and will be named in honor of former State Senator Paull Shinn.
The Edmonds Pier: Vital improvements will be made to this popular attraction for people across the state. This is a long term investment that will be good for decades of enjoyment.
Clean up of the Mukilteo Tank Farm: The old U.S. Air Force tank farm on the Mukilteo waterfront has been shut down since 1989 and is a contaminated & unused space. The city has received funding to begin a clean-up of the site and intends to eventually redevelop for it for future use.
The Edmonds Center for the Arts: ECA hosts a great variety of community and cultural events, but has had to deal with an aging and leaky roof and an antiquated HVAC system for this historic structure. The Capital Budget funds repairs for the roof and other much-needed energy efficiency updates to the building.
Edmonds Civic Center: The City of Edmonds received matching funds to acquire the Civic Center field. The school district, which currently owns it, is selling the 7.9 acre lot and the purchase of it by the city means that it will be preserved as a local center for outdoor activities & events.
Other projects include funding for the improvements of local Shellfish growing areas.
“Mukilteo is so excited for what this legislative session has meant for our community. The investments in our youth will add fields and teen facilities, and the transportation projects will relieve congestion in the Harbour Pointe area, and help us reshape our waterfront as the Ferry Terminal project continues to move forward.” —Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson
Here in the 21st District, we are well aware of the potential disaster with oil trains coming through our communities at an ever increasing frequency. This year I was proud to co-sponsor House Bill 1449, regarding Oil Transportation Safety, which was recently signed into law by Governor Inslee. HB 1449 establishes a tax on barrels of crude oil traveling by rail in our state, which funds oil spill response teams. It also requires railroad companies involved in oil shipments to submit oil spill contingency plans, and that our first responders are given advanced notice as to when these trains are moving through our communities. While this legislation did not go far enough in addressing some of the other environmental concerns I have with oil transportation, I am proud of the work that was accomplished regarding public safety.
With the 2015 Legislative Session over, work has already begun on legislation for the 2016 session.
A few issues that I will work on for 2016 include:
- I will be reintroducing my paint stewardship legislation to create a statewide paint recycling program. This bill has received support from the paint companies, the environmental community, and consumers.
- Noxious and invasive weeds are a problem we need to eradicate, but the removal of these high-pollen producing weeds is harmful to our honeybee population. I will be supporting a program that will coordinate the replacement of these noxious weeds with local plants containing high levels of pollen.
- In Washington, many properties have septic tanks that are unmonitored and have fallen into disrepair. The tragic consequences that can result from this neglect are covered in this recent KING5 story. I support implementing an annual fee for properties with septic tanks that will give health departments the funding for regular inspections.
- Heroin overdose deaths are ravaging families throughout Snohomish County and the state. I recently attended a workgroup with my colleagues Senator David Frockt and Representative Brady Walkinshaw to discuss the detrimental impact that opioid addiction (such as heroin) is having on our communities. We plan to continue to work with our first responders and public health officials to pass legislation to give them the necessary tools to treat those caught in the chronic disease that is addiction.
Again, we had many successes in our record breaking session and I am proud of the work that was accomplished and honored to work with so many dedicated public servants. There is much work left to do, however. With your help and input, I am confident we can move Washington forward and make it a better place for all of us. Thank you again for your support.