House Democrats offer supplemental budget proposal

This week, House Democrats revealed their proposed supplemental budget for 2018. HB 2299 received a public hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and a committee vote on Wednesday. You can access all the bill documents, including the bill text, summary, and agency detail reports, on the Washington State LEAP website. You can watch the House Democratic Leadership press conference announcing the budget on TVW, and read about major budget highlights in this PowerPoint. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee for many years, I helped develop this proposal.

This budget represents a net increase of $634 million over last year’s enacted 2017-19 biennial budget, with the most significant investments made in K-12 public education, behavioral health, higher education financial aid, and health care. It is typical for the Legislature to pass a supplemental budget in the second year of the biennium to round out and clean up the previous year’s budget.

Some highlights of the budget

(numbers represent statewide costs for the two-year biennium):

K-12 Education:

  • Increases the Special Education multiplier ($37 million)
  • Phases in a family involvement coordinator at elementary schools ($39 million)
  • Adjusts regionalization and adds educator experience as a factor for compensation ($18 million)
  • Increases funding for middle school guidance counselors ($15 million)

Higher Education:

  • Phases in full funding of State Need Grant over three years ($25 million)

Behavioral Health:

  • Increases rates for behavioral health organizations for both Medicaid and non-Medicaid patients ($41 million)
  • Funding to combat the opioid crisis ($5.9 million, plus $20 million in matched federal funds)

Health care:

  • Restores the hearing aids benefit for Medicaid recipients ($358,000)

Early Childhood Education:

  • Expands Home Visiting and reading development for families ($2.4 million)

Human Services:

  • Fully restores & increases aid for needy families ($10.6 million)
  • Funds critical staffing at Department of Veterans Affairs ($5.9 million)

Retirees:

  • Funds a one-time 3 percent COLA to least paid state retirees ($7.2 million)

Lowering regressive property taxes

For the last several years, the legislature has been grappling with the Supreme Court’s McCleary order to fully fund basic education with state rather than local dollars. Last year, under pressure to meet the Court’s deadline, the divided legislature passed a large property tax increase (which I voted against). It disproportionately affected residents in the Puget Sound region, and was a cornerstone of the Republicans’ education funding package. I voted against this tax increase because I do not think it was fair to my constituents, who already face rising costs, and because I think there are better ways to raise the money we need to pay for education.

With Democrats taking over the Senate last November, there is an opportunity to lower some of these regressive property taxes. House Democrats have proposed to reduce property taxes in two ways:

  • HB 2993 is a one-time transfer of funds from the Budget Stabilization Account to reduce property tax rates by a total of $995.6 million.
  • HB 2967 levies a 7 percent excise tax on non-retirement corporate investment returns, starting in 2019. Residences, retirement assets (including 401(k)), certain assets related to farming, agricultural land, and some other capital assets would be excluded. If you don’t pay federal capital gains, you wouldn’t pay this corporate investment tax.

Gun legislation passes the House

The recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida reminds us that questions around gun ownership and public safety are urgent and demand our attention.

Today we passed two pieces of common sense gun legislation:

  • SSB 5553 creates a process for voluntary waiver of firearm rights, intended to reduce the risk of harm for people in crisis who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Passed 77-20.
  • ESB 5992 bans bump-fire stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas massacre. Passed 56-41.

Both pieces of legislation passed out on bipartisan votes.

Gun ownership is a heated issue on both sides. I know there are constituents who think no restriction on gun sales, ownership, or accessories is appropriate. But the problem of gun violence – whether by mass shooting, suicide, or domestic violence – is not getting better, and we have to listen to our constituents’ calls for increased safety.

Updates to the Public Records Act

Thank you for writing me about public records at the legislature. Today we passed SB 6617, the largest expansion of legislative records being opened to the public in over two decades. Once the bill goes into effect on July 1, 2018, more legislative records will be subject to public disclosure, including:

  • Legislators’ calendars, including the names and dates of individuals and organizations with whom they’ve met;
  • Legislators’ correspondence on legislative business to and from lobbyists and other people who are paid to influence legislation;
  • Final dispositions of investigations and disciplinary proceedings by administrative committees that oversee the House and Senate.

This expansion and openness has been lost in much of the coverage. I know there is concern in the press and in the public about the expedited process for this bill’s passage. While I don’t support the quick manner in which this bill was passed, I do support making our legislature more transparent. This bill is an attempt to reconcile concerns about openness of government with the need to retain privacy for our constituents and the open flow of ideas between members throughout the legislative process.

If you have specific questions about the new policy, I would suggest taking a look at the legislation (here is the bill language and here is the bill summary). As former New York Governor Al Smith used to say, “look at the record.” It is a great way to cut through the rhetoric from politicians and the press.

Thank you for reading and for your continued feedback throughout this legislative session. We will finish on March 8.