Budget and School Funding
The top task this session was to live up to our responsibility to fully fund education for Washington’s 1.1 million school kids. We knew it would be tough, and the proposals put forward by both Democrats and Republicans recognized that new revenue would be required in order to significantly boost education spending.
The good news is that we increased education funding, and we avoided a government shutdown by reaching a compromise on the budget before the end of the fiscal year. The bad news is that Senate Republicans insisted on a large property tax increase, so we missed a chance to start fixing our incredibly regressive tax structure. Also, I am concerned that the final compromise is both unsustainable and insufficient to meet our school funding needs.
Democrats embraced ideas for reforming a broken tax code. We wanted progressive revenue proposals like a capital gains tax on wealthy investors, a carbon tax to shift pollution costs onto polluters, and changes to B&O rates to help small businesses. Our plan would have cut tax rates for many middle-class families and small businesses while asking wealthier residents and more profitable businesses to pay their fair share. These progressive tax reforms were vehemently rejected by Senate Republicans who, instead, went all-in on raising the state property tax. At the same time as this jump in property tax, big business interests secured a package of new tax breaks (SB 5977). This is just not fair.
I remain committed to delivering middle class tax relief through progressive revenue reform. I sponsored legislation (HB 2115 and HJR 4208) to create a homestead exemption for property tax, which would offer relief to middle class and low-income homeowners. With the big jump in state property tax, this is even more important, especially for seniors and those living on a fixed income who are trying to stay in their homes.
Beyond the revenue structure, I am also concerned about the sustainability of our budget approach. The use of capital budget fund sweeps, including $500 million over 4 years from the Public Works Assistance Account, is equivalent to taking out loans to cover our current operating expenses. This is bad policy and not a sustainable way to budget.
Whether the new funding for schools is adequate to meet our court mandates is something that the court will decide in the coming months. I am also troubled by some of the other changes to education policy, which were made with the school funding approach. HB 2242, which I voted against, suspends Initiative 1351 (the voter-approved initiative to reduce class sizes) and causes a sharp reduction in local control of our schools. I believe it is crucial for school districts to engage with the needs of their local communities in order to be successful. Micromanagement from the state on both policy and funding issues often gets in the way of innovation and success.
Paid Family Leave
I am pleased to report that the House and Senate reached agreement on a paid family leave program and voted on it last week. I joined 64 of my House colleagues in voting for the bill, which the Senate also passed with strong bipartisan support, and the Governor signed it earlier this week.
The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program will:
- Provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or ailing family member or up to 12 weeks to recover from a disabling injury, and no more than 16 weeks total if using both. Women with pregnancy complications could access up to two additional weeks for a total of 18 weeks.
- Weekly benefits are a percentage of the individual’s average weekly wage (AWW) during the two highest quarters in the qualifying period.
- If the individual’s AWW is 50 percent or less than the state AWW ($1,082 for 2015), the benefit is 90 percent of the individual’s AWW; or
- If the individual’s AWW is more than 50 percent of the state AWW, the benefit is 90 percent of the individual’s AWW up to 50 percent of the state AWW, and 50 percent of the individual’s AWW that is greater than the state AWW.
- The maximum weekly benefit amount is $1,000.
- The program is funded through employer and employee payroll taxes.
- Premiums will be collected starting in 2019 and benefits paid in 2020.
- All employees in the state qualify; and independent contractors and the self-employed may opt in
- To qualify for the program an individual must work for 820 hours in 4 of the last 5 quarters.
- Job protection is the same as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act
I am proud to have supported this bill and am proud that Washington will become the fifth state in the nation to guarantee paid family leave.
I am disappointed that the legislature was unable to reach an agreement about car tabs and Sound Transit 3 this session. I have heard all year from many constituents who have concerns about this issue, especially with the use of an old valuation model that is inaccurate and does not reflect a vehicle’s true value. I have co-sponsored several bills to fix this valuation problem and increase transparency and accountability in Sound Transit.
According to the Seattle Times, the proposed new valuation system is far more accurate and tracks closely to the Kelley Blue Book depreciation.
Despite bipartisan support in the House, Republican leadership in the Senate publicly rejected all of these proposals.
This is unacceptable. People deserve the light rail they voted for and they deserve to have accurate valuations for their car tabs.
While we did pass the budget last week, we are still in session working on several pending issues, but we are not in Olympia every day. So if there’s something in your mind that you’d like to discuss, or you just want to meet for coffee, feel free to schedule an appointment by calling the district office number, 206-556-3195, or email me at Derek.Stanford@leg.wa.gov.