Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There are less than 10 days left in the regular legislative session. Both the House and Senate have passed operating budget proposals, but they are two very different spending plans. Both budgets passed on party-line votes in their respective chambers. Negotiators are working to reach an agreement on the differences before our scheduled adjournment on March 10.
Since I have become involved in politics, many have heard me say, we need to fund our priorities but live within our means and protect the taxpayers of Whatcom County and our great state. Unfortunately, the House Democrat budget does not do that. I am very concerned about some of the questionable budget decisions in their proposal. It is important to remember this is a supplemental budget year. We should not be considering major policy changes and large expenditures except for emergencies like wildfires and flooding, and unexpected shifts in entitlement programs. It was only last July when we passed a $38 billion state operating budget. However, this year's proposed House operating budget:
- raids the rainy day fund for non-emergency spending;
- relies on tax increases that have been rejected in the past;
- does not have funds for the remaining McCleary education ruling for K-3 class size reductions; and
- does not honor our state's four-year budget outlook.
Many of my colleagues and I tried to amend the budget on the House floor but most amendments were defeated by party-line votes. We offered a number of amendments that would have:
- immediately defunded taxpayer-funded abortions;
- provided a solution to save our charter schools;
- backfilled higher education dollars to bolster our historic tuition reduction plan;
- help reduce the cost of college by implementing textbook savings; and
- directed funding to career and technical education (CTE's) programs in high schools including shop class and Future Farmers of America (FFA).
My most recent legislative video takes a closer look at CTE programs. Click: “The importance of career and technical education” to watch. At a time when college education has become financially difficult for many, it is important for our young people to realize that not everyone needs a four-year degree to be successful.
Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget
The Senate budget proposal is much more realistic and fiscally responsible. Their supplemental spending plan makes investments in mental health, increased protections for people with developmental disabilities, and wildfire prevention and suppression costs. The budget also invests and makes reforms at the Health Care Authority, Western State Hospital and Department of Corrections.
The Senate does not use proposed tax increases or budget gimmicks. Their supplemental plan also complies with the four-year budget outlook and does not raid the rainy day fund.
It is imperative as the final budget negotiations take place that we follow the framework of the Senate budget instead of the House Democrats' tax-reliant spending plan.
We should be voting on a bipartisan, supplemental capital budget in the House at any time. The proposed House plan includes about $77,000 to begin the design and engineering phase of the much-needed Kendall Trail along SR 547 from the Kendell Elementary School to South Pass Road. This trail is needed to enhance the safety and mobility of people and cyclists along this stretch of highway. Currently there is no lighting or sidewalks and the shoulders are very narrow. In a recent tragic accident, a local student was killed while riding his bike along SR 547.
There is also $500,000 for the city of Lynden so they can begin the process of the Pepin Creek realignment to prevent future flooding in both urban and agricultural areas, as well as provide safe fish passage.
Finally, the capital plan includes the authority to finance construction of the Whatcom Community College's Learning Commons. The project will be funded by using the community and technical college system's Building Fee fund, so no money needs to be allocated from the capital budget. Construction could begin this summer if the authority to move forward with the project is granted in the final capital budget plan.
I have been told by many WCC students that the commons project is greatly needed and would integrate tutoring, veteran services, math and writing centers, and help alleviate the college's shortage of classroom and program space.
During the last week and a half, there will be negotiations going on for the final budgets – operating, capital and transportation – as well as trying to reach an agreement on differences between House and Senate bills.
We are still on track to adjourn on time. I am looking forward to returning to the beautiful 42nd Legislative District. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments on the budgets or any legislation still being worked on.
Luanne Van Werven