Dear friends and neighbors,

I am going to apologize in advance for what is going to be a long update on the legislative session.

While most of the state had gone to bed on Friday night June 30th, the Legislature finally passed an operating budget, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. Had we failed to get our job done, state parks would have closed and services that many of our most vulnerable populations depend on would have been halted.

This was my first time participating in the budget process and it convinced me that we need to reform the system. We as a Legislature must do better. We cannot continue to play a high-stakes game of chicken by running up against a government shutdown just to get our work done. Not only did we wait until the last second to pass a budget, we did so with no public input. Not to mention, most legislators, myself included, were given only a few hours to review the budget.

That is unacceptable and it needs to change.

As we reflect on last week’s celebration of the birth of our democracy, we need to remember that our founding fathers wanted a process robust with open debate and public scrutiny.

To that end, I have already introduced a new bill that requires 72 hours before bills are brought to the floor for a final vote. This will provide adequate time for the public to review legislation and provide feedback to their representatives before a bill becomes a law.

We also passed a K-12 funding bill that makes historic investments in our public education system. This legislation is in response to the State Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that Washington was not meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund our schools.

I voted against both the K-12 funding bill and the operating budget. I will share my reasons below.

K-12 FUNDING

The landmark K-12 funding and policy package we passed late last Friday invests $7.3 billion into our public education system. It also funds important programs aimed at closing the opportunity gap, increases teacher compensation so we can recruit and retain the best and brightest to teach our children, and maintains local control.

I voted no because of the secretive process and because the plan is funded by a statewide property tax that is unsustainable in the long run and unfairly hurts working households and folks on fixed incomes – especially in the 1st Legislative District.

The process was maddening. Legislators and the public were not given accurate data on how the taxes and policy would affect our district until the morning of the vote. This left me little to no time to get feedback from teachers, parents, superintendents and other education advocates in my district. A bill of this magnitude requires more scrutiny and reflection in order for us to get it right.

I am also greatly concerned about the sustainability of the new property tax. This legislation suspends the 1% property tax limit over the next four years – a limit established by a Tim Eyman sponsored initiative. However, the 1-percent property tax cap goes back into effect in Year 5. As a result, the main funding source for schools will begin to erode and we will be back in the same situation we are today – scrambling for more K-12 dollars. My colleague, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, articulated these concerns very eloquently on the Senate floor. I encourage you to watch his comments by clicking here.

My final reason for voting against the K-12 bill is because it disproportionately hurts homeowners and renters in our district. Make no mistake about it, no other legislative district gets hit as hard as ours does. When you rank the 295 school districts statewide on the property tax increase, the 1st Legislative District has two school districts in the top 5 and three of our districts are in the top 10.

Property tax increase on the average homeowner in the 1st Legislative District.

Of the $7.3 billion investment, $4.1 billion of it is from this Republican property tax swap. It simply asks homeowners and renters in our district to fund tax cuts for districts east of the mountains. I cannot in good conscience place the burden of funding education in our state on the backs of low-income households and seniors on fixed incomes in our district. Affordability is already a major problem in our region and this tax plan will only make things worse. I would have preferred a tax plan that asked polluters to foot the bill rather than the middle class.

My friend and colleague, Sen. Patty Kuderer, summed things up best during the floor debate. I encourage you to watch her remarks by clicking here.

THE BUDGET

Because we have a split legislature, the operating budget that passed was ultimately a compromise. For both parties, there are items in the budget that are good and items that are hard to justify.

I am happy that this budget funds additional slots for the state’s early learning programs, invests in mental health and supports programs that assist our most vulnerable citizens. As the ranking member on the Senate Higher Education committee, I am pleased this budget invests in the State Need Grant that helps more children access higher education.

In the end, though, I voted ‘no’ on this budget.

Once again, I was extremely disappointed in the negotiation process. I was given the 620-page budget to review at 11:00 a.m. on Friday and I had to vote on it at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon. There was no public hearing, no public input. I was still scanning the document 10 minutes prior to the vote, trying to figure out how the budget addressed the priorities of my constituents.

I also voted against this budget because it is loaded with accounting gimmicks and it uses almost $2 billion of one-time money for ongoing operating expenses. For example, it sweeps the Public Works Trust Fund – a fund created to help local communities bond important infrastructure projects at low-interest rates.

My friend Sen. Mark Mullet illustrated the sustainability problems with this budget in his floor speech and I encourage you to watch it by clicking here.

The state treasurer has also weighed in on this specific problem:

“Using one-time revenue for an annually recurring expense is concerning. In the coming days there might still be ‘back of the budget’ explanations that will help put this transfer in better context,”- Duane A. Davidson, Washington State Treasurer.

I really wanted to be able to vote for a bipartisan compromise budget. However, the complete lack of transparency, coupled with what I believe to be unconstitutional and unsustainable funding sources, warranted my no vote.

SUPPORT FOR SOLAR ENERGY

At 2 a.m. last Saturday, we finally passed my Senate Bill 5939, a critical solar energy bill that enhances the solar production incentive for renewable energy systems. This bill will support thousands of jobs, local businesses and renewable energy throughout the state. I fought hard all session long for this bill, right up to the last moment. It will go a long way towards improving our environment and helping many small businesses that specialize in solar energy systems.

PAID FAMILY LEAVE

After months of tense negotiations, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5975 to establish a new statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program. The culmination of more than a decade of work by legislators and advocates, SB 5975 is the most worker-friendly paid family and medical leave program in the nation.

Under this legislation, employees will be able to take off up to 12 weeks for the birth of a child, to take care of a family member who is suffering a serious medical condition, or for a non-work-related illness or injury to that employee.

I was proud to be a part of a sub-group of small business owners in the Senate Democratic Caucus who were able to give input on how paid family medical leave might affect small businesses in the state. Because of our participation, this legislation has many good elements that protect small businesses including a provision that exempts businesses that employ fewer than 50 employees from having to pay the employer share of the premium, but allows them to opt in if they choose.

CAPITAL BUDGET UPDATE

Senate Republicans are refusing to pass a Capital Budget — the budget that funds construction projects, class size reduction and maintains public lands across the state — until there is a repeal of the Hirst water decision.

At 3:30 a.m. last Saturday, House Republicans joined House Democrats and passed the Capital Budget off the House floor by a 92-1 margin. Clearly, House Republicans are just as frustrated as their Democratic counterparts that the Senate Republicans are holding the Capital Budget hostage.

This is completely reckless and places projects in our district at risk of losing important state funding, including $1 million for further preservation of land in Bothell formerly occupied by the Wayne Golf Course.

The current special session is scheduled to end on July 20. I am hopeful Senate Republicans will join us at the bargaining table so we can pass a compromise Hirst fix and Capital Budget before our work in Olympia is done.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Even though we are a citizen legislature and our work is considered part time, I will continue to work diligently during the interim on projects important to the 1st Legislative District. For instance, my efforts on transportation this session are beginning to bear fruit. There is now a work group focused on fixing traffic issues at the north end of I-405. A recent change in the plan includes a new parking garage at the Canyon Park park-and-ride and adding a new park-and-ride near the University of Washington-Bothell. This will help to integrate the new SR 522 and I-405 bus rapid transit lines when they become operational.

I will also convene a group of local CEOs and city officials to work on bringing more biotech and STEM jobs to the Canyon Park business district. Stay tuned.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. My number-one responsibility is to you, the residents of the 1st Legislative District. You sent me here to represent your values and I will never lose sight of that trust and responsibility. Please feel free to contact me anytime. The more I hear from you, the better I can fight for your priorities.

Sincerely,