Keeping our Promises in Transportation
Much of the focus during special session has been on the difficult negotiations over the operating budget. However, I have good news to report on another issue I have been working on that is very important to our state: the House and Senate reached an agreement on a maintenance level transportation budget that will continue the work being done on infrastructure projects across our state.
The $7.6 billion budget is about $700 million less than last biennium, largely because we are finishing up all the roads and bridges that were funded by the previous revenue packages. Almost 90 percent of those projects are now complete. And while we have less money than previous years, we did make room for a few new investments: increased spending on bridge maintenance and preservation, compensation for the Washington State Patrol, and new regional mobility grants.
The bipartisan budget has been delivered to Governor Inslee, and he is expected to sign it shortly.
New Investments in Transportation
While the maintenance level budget does include these modest enhancements, it contains no new funding for major transportation infrastructure or transit. A modern transportation system that grows our economy, fights traffic, and works for all users will require significant new investments. That is why House Democrats are working tirelessly to pass a new transportation package that meets the needs of our growing state.
As the Vice-Chair of the Transportation Committee I am deeply involved in these negotiations, fighting to make sure that Pierce County gets a fair deal. The House proposal contained a number of important projects for our region: $350 million to reduce congestion along I-5 near JBLM, $22.3 million to improve commuter and freight access to the Port of Tacoma, $2.5 million to streamline traffic coming off the Vashon Island Ferry, and $2 million for safety improvements along the Defiance rail bypass.
We are meeting every day with the Senate negotiators trying to reach an agreement, and we are making real progress. I promise to continue fighting for a revenue package that provides these critical investments we need without balancing the package on the backs of schools, workers, and our environment.
An Update on the Operating Budget
Senate Republicans recently released a budget that continued to underfund teacher compensation and hold other public employee contracts hostage in exchange for a wish list of ideological legislation they were not able to pass during the regular session.
Last week, House Democrats received public input on a revised budget that marks a significant compromise in negotiations, and now it’s time for Senate Republicans to meet us in the middle.
Our new budget reduces spending by $450 million and reduces new revenue by more than $900 million from the original proposal but still maintains a core set of investments.
To make investments in K-12 and Higher Education we have proposed a modest capital gains tax on the sale of corporate stocks, bonds, investment property and other high-end financial assets. The proposed rate would be among the lowest in the country and would only impact the wealthiest 32,000 Washingtonians, helping to address our state’s regressive tax system.
House Democrats will continue to work in good faith and make moves toward the middle. For more information on the negotiations take a look at this article in the Olympian.
Here are some of the key differences between House & Senate budget proposals:
- K-12: The House invests $100 million more for McCleary, $150 million for teacher COLAs.
- Early Learning: The House invests $115 million more for our young learners.
- Higher Education: The House has a responsible plan to invest in higher education and increase accessibility.
- Mental Health: The House complies with the court-ordered Trueblood decision and funds competency restoration services, investing $50 million more in mental health care than the Senate.
- Human Services: The Senate Republican budget includes dozens of cuts and fails to improve services suffering from drastic cuts during the Great Recession, resulting in $167 million difference between the budgets.