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31 07, 2019

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig’s statement on election of Rep. Laurie Jinkins as Speaker-designate

July 31st, 2019|Uncategorized|

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) released this statement following the election of Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) as the Speaker-designate of the Washington State House of Representatives:

“I would like to extend congratulations to Laurie Jinkins on being elected the next House Speaker by her colleagues today.

“As an accomplished legislator and the first woman to hold the position, she will bring a vital perspective to leadership in the Washington State Legislature. I’ve enjoyed a productive working relationship with Laurie since we joined the House together in 2011. She has a long record of fighting for legislation that puts our state on the path of prosperity by creating opportunity for everybody.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the House leadership team to put people first and make Washington the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

1 07, 2019

Stanford appointed 1st Legislative District senator

July 1st, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – Derek Stanford was unanimously appointed state senator for the 1st Legislative District this morning at a joint meeting of the King and Snohomish County councils in Bothell.

“I’m excited to get to work in the Senate, and I’m grateful to the 1st District Democrats and to the Snohomish and King County councils for their support,” said Stanford (D-Bothell).

“It has been an honor to serve the people of the 1st Legislative District as state representative for the past nine years.”

Stanford was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and has been re-elected four times since. In the House, he chaired the Commerce & Gaming Committee and served on the Appropriations Committee and Consumer Protection & Business Committee.

“I’m proud to have played a part in passing historic legislation during my tenure in the House, from increasing school funding and expanding voting rights to fighting climate change and protecting workers,” he said. “I believe that everyone deserves an equitable opportunity to pursue their dreams. Together, we can tackle the greatest challenges we face and leave our state in better shape for our children. I look forward to continuing this work in the Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig applauded Stanford’s appointment.

“It is my pleasure to welcome Sen. Stanford to our caucus. He brings with him a long, accomplished record of serving his constituents and a wealth of knowledge that will benefit the Senate and our state.”

This year, Stanford was the author of a major law that bans excessive non-compete agreements in Washington state, as well as legislation regulating the cannabis industry and preventing pets from being used as collateral for loans.

Stanford earned a PhD in Statistics at the University of Washington, following an MS in Mathematics at Claremont Graduate University and a BS in Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College.

Currently, Stanford runs a small business specializing in analytics solutions and statistical consulting. Previously, he has served as director of analytics at companies specializing in fraud detection and customer insights. He has also worked as a research scientist at a software company, where he served as principal investigator on a research project for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

29 04, 2019

Majority Leader: A lot to be proud of in a historic session

April 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) released this statement following the adjournment of the 2019 legislative session, the first 105-day session to end on time since 2009 and the second year in a row the Legislature has adjourned as scheduled:

“In the two years since Democrats retook control of the Senate, we have worked hard to pass legislation that puts people first and ensures more people have access to a quality education, health care, clean air and water and create an overall better quality of life.

“We finished our work on time. We made sure diverse voices were heard throughout the legislative session. And we will continue to ensure every Washingtonian has an opportunity to succeed.

“This year we made historic investments in health care, behavioral health, higher education and the environment — and kept our promise to Washington’s 1.1 million students through additional investments in schools in every corner of our state.

“We committed our state to a path toward 100% clean energy, adopted the nation’s first public health care option, and became the first state to adopt publicly-funded long-term care.”

“We tackled criminal justice reform, election transparency and access, workers rights, the rights of immigrants, and public safety.

“For the first time since I’ve been in the Legislature, we made meaningful reforms to our state’s broken tax structure, ensuring that new investments in programs that benefit all Washingtonians won’t be disproportionately paid for by low- and middle income families.

“We made meaningful steps to ensure that the wealthiest Washingtonians start paying their fair share, but I will be the first to say we still have miles ago to fix our broken tax code.

“I am so proud of our team and the work we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished for each and every Washingtonian.”

29 04, 2019

Legislature passes ‘Putting People First’ state operating budget

April 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Legislature passed a 2019-21 operating budget plan and revenue plan on Sunday, making critical investments in behavioral health, affordable housing, education, and the environment.

“This is a responsible and optimistic budget that includes broad investments to meet critical needs across our state. We are transforming our behavioral health system and making historic investments in education, which is the bedrock of our communities,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“This is what putting people first looks like,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We’re making significant investments in special education and behavioral health, helping families stay in their homes and out of poverty, and expanding college access and opportunity to more families across Washington.”

Highlights of the $52.4 billion two-year operating budget include:

Behavioral Health: The two-year budget will make significant investments in continued efforts to reform and improve the state behavioral health system.

  • $47 million to expand community behavioral health beds and services.
  • $92 million in this biennium to ensure the stability of state hospitals and the safety of patients and staff.
  • $74 million in this biennium to comply with the Trueblood court ruling.

Affordable Housing: In addition to the state capital budget, the state operating budget makes key investments in housing programs and services.

  • $15 million focused on permanent supportive housing and youth homelessness.
  • $14.5 million for the Housing and Essential Needs Program, which helps people with disabilities who are struggling to find or maintain housing.

Education: This budget fulfills the bipartisan promise made by the Legislature to fund health care coverage for school employees through the School Employee Benefits Board (SEBB) program. This investment will cost $328 million in this budget and $837 million over four years.

  • $155 million for additional special education funding ($294 million over four years).
  • $61 million for additional levy assistance for areas with low property values.
  • $12 million for paraeducator training.
  • $2.5 million additional funding for student mental health and safety.

Workforce Education InvestmentCreates a new Washington College Grant to make public college tuition-free in Washington state for families earning less than $50,000 per year, with partial scholarships for families up to state’s median income, and significantly invests in community colleges.

It addresses demand through targeted investments by bringing together students, parents, higher education institutions, workers, and businesses. To pay for the investments, the Legislature increased B&O rates on businesses that rely on a highly-educated workforce.

  • Expands access to the Washington College Grant (formerly the State Need Grant).
  • Makes career pathways a priority by expanding programs that guide students through community and technical colleges or apprenticeships and increases counseling.
  • Increases capacity at the public community and technical colleges and four-year institutions for high-demand programs, such as computer science, engineering, nursing, and other high-demand fields.

Other investments:

  • $35 million to expand Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots and rate increases.
  • $62 million for rate increases for community residential services providers (long-term and developmental disabilities care).
  • $31 million to improve habitat and protect Orcas.
  • $9 million to eliminate the backlog in testing sexual assault kits.
  • $24 million in state general funds to increase our wildfire response and address natural disasters.
  • $4.5 million to expand rural broadband.

While the state economy has resulted in additional revenue over the current two-year budget, existing expenses have outpaced that revenue growth. The state faces an additional $5.8 billion in expenses over the last two-year budget, most of which ($3.9 billion) comes from the bipartisan education funding agreement reached in 2017.

The state’s revenue growth over that same time was $4.5 billion. Therefore new revenue was needed to make critical investments in behavioral health, housing, higher education, and the environment.

Revenue is added by changing the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) rates for property sales over $1.5 million. Washington’s current REET rate is a flat rate regardless of the value of the transaction.

The Progressive Real Estate Excise Tax proposal would result in more than 80% of real estate sellers receiving a tax cut while another 18% would see no change in the rate. The remaining sellers, those selling real estate valued at $1.5 million or higher, would see a rate increase.

The budget includes a business and occupations tax increase on the very largest and most profitable global banks. Other revenue includes an increase in the B&O rate for firms that provide international investments services.

28 04, 2019

Senate’s capital budget proposes life-changing investments in infrastructure

April 28th, 2019|Uncategorized|

The Washington State Senate today approved a two-year capital budget that would invest in priority infrastructure across the state in the areas of behavioral health, affordable housing, education and the environment.

The budget passed with a unanimous vote.

“The bipartisan support of this budget highlights the investments it makes on behalf of all Washingtonians,” said Sen. David Frockt, vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and the Senate’s lead capital budget writer. “The capital budget supports our schools, improvements to our behavioral health system, the environment, and other values that are so key to the Washington way of life.”

The budget invests $120 million in community based behavioral health investments, helping patients transition to care in their own communities.

It also includes $33.2 million for predesign, planning and design of a new, 150-bed behavioral health teaching facility at the University of Washington Medical Center. This project has broad bipartisan support and is seen as a critical component of Washington’s long-term strategy to create a new paradigm for mental health treatment in Washington State. 

“Washington is transitioning to a behavioral health system that helps and protects our most vulnerable neighbors, and this budget supports that,” Frockt said. “Our investment in the Housing Trust Fund compliments that investment — particularly a $35 million investment in housing with behavioral health supports.”

The budget includes $175 million in affordable housing loans and grants through the Housing Trust Fund. Allocations within the Housing Trust Fund include:

  • $10 million for high-quality modular housing to transition people out of homelessness quickly.
  • $35 million for supportive housing and case management services for people living with behavioral health disorders.
  • $10 million for competitively awarded grants for state matches on private contributions to fund affordable housing
  • $10 million for housing preservation grants
  • $5 million for housing veterans
  • $5 million for housing to serve people with disabilities

The capital budget invests about $148.4 million in toxics cleanup, prevention and stormwater assistance to local governments.

Additional environmental investments would prevent wildfires and help the orca population. Forest hazard reduction would receive $14.2 million. The budget contains funding spread across a variety of projects that would aid orca recovery, including habitat restoration.

The $63 million invested in state parks would expand Washingtonians’ options for outdoor recreation. About $3 million of that funding would go to a new, full-service Nisqually State Park near Eatonville. About $35.4 million would fund park maintenance.

An additional $85 million would fund outdoor recreation projects though Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program grants.

The budget would invest about $1.1 billion in K-12 education, with about $1.04 billion dedicated to the School Construction Assistance Program. About $23 million would benefit distressed schools, and $20 million would fund small district modernization grants.

The state’s higher education system would receive $974 million.

25 04, 2019

Rolfes, Ormsby announce tentative deal on 2019-21 operating budget

April 25th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA — Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, and Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, released the following joint statement announcing a tentative agreement on the 2019-21 Operating Budget:

“We have reached a tentative budget agreement between the two chambers and look forward to finishing our work on a final budget by the end of the legislative session on Sunday. We will continue to work with our fiscal teams in the Legislature to complete final details on a responsible budget that puts people first and meets the pressing needs of our state.”

Once details are finalized, Senate and House budget leaders anticipate releasing the final budget on Saturday.

9 04, 2019

The Everblue State: Sen. Karen Keiser, one of the Legislature’s longest serving members

April 9th, 2019|Podcast|

Sen. Karen Keiser has served in the Washington State Legislature since 1996 — and she’s seen a lot of change. She watched as the number of women in the Senate grew, and then dropped again.

Keiser chairs the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, and frequently presides over the Senate as President Pro Tempore.

She shared some insights from her long career in this episode of the Everblue State.

4 04, 2019

Two-year operating budget approved by Senate

April 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate today approved a $52.2 billion state operating budget to fund vital state services, including targeted support for the state’s behavioral health system, K-12 special education, higher education, and the environment.

Because the Senate amended ESHB 1109 before passing it, budget writers from the Senate and House must now begin a conference process to negotiate the differences in the versions that passed each chamber and pass a final operating budget before the end of the legislative session on April 28.

More than half of the state budget pays for K-12 education, honoring commitments made in 2017 to increase basic education funding. A new investment of $283 million is dedicated to improving behavioral health services over the next two years.

“This is a smart budget that puts people first and fulfills commitments to quality education and a more effective behavioral health system,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and its chief budget writer. “We deepen our commitment to quality early learning, give more kids a chance at college, invest in our state’s vital workforce, and address threats to our health and environment. This budget continues our commitment to putting people first.”

The budget represents a $4.5 billion increase in K-12 education spending above the last biennial budget, including a $937 million increase for special education.

Other budget highlights include the funding of Gov. Inslee’s climate initiatives and orca whale protection, investments to address housing needs and homelessness, expansion of college scholarship programs, improving the foster care system, police de-escalation training, expanded access to early learning, and funding the sexual assault kit backlog at the Washington State Patrol.

Click here for Senate Operating Budget details

Senate Democrats are proposing roughly $518 million in new revenue to pay for many of the new investments. The proposal calls for changes to make the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) more fair and the closure or reduction of three preferential tax rates: non-resident sales tax, prescription drug resellers, and travel agents. The budget also includes a tax increase on property, auto and casualty insurance, from 2 percent to 2.52 percent, to establish a dedicated account to fund the growing cost of wildfire prevention and suppression.

“Our economy is leading the nation is several categories, but our upside-down tax structure places a disproportionate burden on middle-class individuals. Where more revenue is needed to address our state’s growing needs, the budget strategy is careful not to increase the costs to working families,” Rolfes said.

“Both the Senate and House proposals focus on creating safe, healthy communities where people have access to quality education, affordable housing, and economic opportunity,” Rolfes said. “I look forward to working with the House to finish our work and pass a final 2019-21 budget before the session ends on April 28.”

1 04, 2019

The Everblue State: Sen. Manka Dhingra on diversity, behavioral health and more!

April 1st, 2019|Podcast|

For this episode of the Everblue State, Sen. Manka Dhingra tells us about her path to the state Senate, what it’s like to be deputy majority leader, and why improving Washington’s behavioral health system is one of her priorities.

Plus, she told us what it was like to make history as a woman of color in the King County Prosecutor’s Office and in the Senate.

29 03, 2019

Senate Democrats’ introduce “Fix Our Tax Code” plan

March 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Washington’s tax structure is broken. Lower and middle-income families pay nearly 18 percent of their total income in taxes, while the very wealthiest Washingtonians pay just 3 percent.

The Evergreen State’s tax structure consistently ranks dead last in terms of fairness. It’s with this in mind that Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and others introduced a striking amendment to Senate Bill 5961 today to help fix Washington’s tax code.

“While we know we must do more to fix our upside-down tax structure, this would represent modest but concrete progress,” Billig said. “Our existing tax system disproportionately burdens the middle class and vulnerable households living paycheck to paycheck, which is the majority of households in our state.”

The proposal creates a capital gains tax that would impact approximately 8,000 of the wealthiest Washingtonians while offering tax relief to the vast majority of lower- and middle-class families in the state.

Washington is one of only nine states that give the ultra-wealthy a pass on capital gains taxes. Under the Senate proposal, if someone turns a profit of more than $250,000 on the sale of stocks, bonds, commercial real estate, or a large business, they will pay a tax of 8.9 percent on the profits above that threshold.

Revenue generated by the capital gains tax would be used to provide tax reductions for less wealthy Washingtonians. Under the bill, expected revenues of $780 million starting in 2021 would fund:

  • Working Families Tax Credit ($220 M): A tax break for 400,000 of the state’s most underprivileged families – phase-outs begin when income is greater than $19,000 per year.
  • Small businesses tax cut ($260 M): Up to $3,000 in B&O tax relief for businesses grossing less than $2.5 million in revenue annually. This would apply to approximately 350,000 – or 90 percent – of Washington small businesses.
  • Senior property tax reduction ($15 M): A property tax reduction for approximately 21,000 households to help senior citizens with economic and housing stability.
  • Eliminate sales tax on certain products ($235 M): Sales tax ended on diapers, medical and mobility equipment, feminine hygiene products and over-the-counter medications.

“Taxes are an investment we make together to pay for good schools, clean air and water, safe neighborhoods and countless other necessities every single one of us needs. It’s a good deal but we are not paying for it in a smart or balanced way,” Billig said. “Those that can least afford it are asked to carry an outsized share of the tax burden. This common sense plan will help fix our broken tax structure.”