Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have reached the 75th day of the 105-day legislative session and we are at the point where operating, capital and transportation budget proposals are beginning to be unveiled. As early as next week, fiscal committees will start to consider the proposals.
Senate Republicans introduced their operating budget on Tuesday and a public hearing was held on Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. House Democrats are expected to unveil their budget next Monday and will likely hold a hearing early next week as well.
Telephone Town Hall
Rep. Vincent Buys and I are holding a telephone town hall Tuesday, April 4, from 6-7 p.m. The dial-in number for the event is (360) 474-3316.
You will be able to participate from the comfort of your own home. During the event, you can ask questions by pressing the STAR key (*) on your telephones at any time. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns, and I urge you to participate.
Revenue Forecast brings good news
The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC) gave budget negotiators and lawmakers some good news last week. The ERFC reported revenue has been increased by about $258 million more for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium, and about $313 million more for the 2017-19 biennium.
These numbers are very encouraging. The projected increase in revenue should dispel the requests and push for tax increases from the other side of the aisle. State revenue is taxpayer dollars, and based on the latest forecast, the state is collecting plenty of taxpayer money and should not be pushing tax proposals to collect more.
I am hopeful the additional revenue will assist in the budget negotiations and reaching a final education-funding plan to address the McCleary court order.
Senate budget introduced
On Tuesday, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus unveiled their budget proposal. The $43 billion spending plan prioritizes education by increasing education spending by about $1.8 billion over the next two years. In fact, under the Senate's proposal, more than 50 percent of the general-fund budget would be spent on K-12 education for the first time since 1983.
It continues our commitment to make higher education more affordable and accessible by funding 1,800 new enrollments with a significant focus on STEM degrees. There are no tax increases, with the exception of solely in King County, in the spending plan and it is sustainable, leaving about $2 billion in the rainy-day fund.
This is the first step in the budget process. Just like any budget, there are going to be areas of concern. We will be working on those and taking a closer look at all the details as we move forward.
Transparency for textbook and course material costs
My textbook transparency legislation, House Bill 1375, passed the House by a unanimous vote of 97-0 earlier this month. The Senate Higher Education Committee held a public hearing on the bill last week. I am hopeful the committee will vote on it in the next few days so the full Senate can also approve the measure, sending it to the governor's desk for his signature.
You may recall the bill would require community and technical colleges to include the costs of required textbooks and course materials in the online course catalog during the registration process or provide a direct link to a bookstore so students can view cost information.
The student groups and organizations, including those from Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College, have been working hard to help me pass this bill. They are very concerned about textbook costs. Textbook prices have gone up 88 percent in the past 10 years. Students feel textbooks are one of the expenses associated with higher education where we can improve affordability. I am proud to be their advocate.
One of our top priorities this session must be to come up with a solution to the Hirst decision. You will recall on Oct. 6, the state Supreme Court ruled Whatcom County's comprehensive land-use plan failed to provide for protection of water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act (GMA).
The court ignored existing state law and made several controversial conclusions. The ruling put the status of household wells into question even though Whatcom County complied with Department of Ecology's rules that allow the permitting of wells if homeowners use fewer than 5,000 gallons of water per day. These wells are considered “exempt”.
For more information about the ruling and possible solutions, watch my video by clicking “Hirst decision.”
Many don't realize it, but there are great opportunities for young people across the state to be part of the political process when the Legislature is in session. I have mentioned our fantastic House Page Program in previous updates, but a number of interns are also selected to work as staff for lawmakers. For more information click Legislative Internship Program.
This year, I am fortunate enough to have an intern from Whatcom County. Tucker Bronkema is from Everson, WA, and attended Meridian High School. He is currently attending Whitworth University where he is majoring in political science and minoring in general business. After graduation, Tucker would like to work on policy for those with disabilities or special needs. He has a strong work ethic and attention to detail. It has been wonderful having him help around the office.
PHOTO: Rep. Van Werven and Intern Tucker Bronkema.
Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the issues discussed in this email update. Your feedback is important to me.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you!
Luanne Van Werven