Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are a quarter of the way through the second special session and I wanted to take a few minutes to give you the view from the negotiation table.
As part of the operating-budget discussions going on between our Senate majority and our counterparts in the House of Representatives, I have been tasked with helping to hammer out the details of meeting the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which addresses the funding of our public-school system. Our workgroup’s mission is to reach an agreement by all stakeholders while satisfying the court’s definition of fully funding education and make the price tag fit within the final two-year operating budget.
Contrary to what many interest groups and the news media would have you believe, there is not one lawmaker in Olympia who wants to give schools, teachers or our kids the short shrift. Legislators are committed to ensuring that every child in Washington – regardless of what public school they attend – will get a first-class education.
I am happy to report that the Senate and House budget positions are not that far apart and we are close to finishing our work, especially where education funding is concerned. The differences are less about how much funding goes to schools and more about how they are funded, as in where the money comes from.
I hope you will read on to find out more about the Senate budget proposal and my response to messages I’ve received in my office this week.
Government shutdown? Not with the Senate budget!
To all the state employees who received an email warning them of an imminent state-government shutdown, I want to reassure you and set the record straight. The information you received about the Senate budget was off-base in more than a few places.
Contrary to their message, the new Senate budget would fully fund collectively bargained state-employee contracts. It also would continue to allow state employees’ spouses the option of buying state health-care coverage, instead of going through their own employers.
The new Senate budget relies solely on increased state revenue and not new taxes. As a result, there is no threat of a state government shutdown or temporary layoffs of state employees.
The Senate budget also fully funds K-12 education with money for pay raises and to reduce class sizes, protects our state’s most vulnerable residents and cuts tuition by an average of 25 percent at state-run colleges and universities. Without requiring new taxes!
Unfortunately the news isn’t as good with the new House budget proposal. They are stubbornly clinging to the belief that a $570 million tax increase is necessary. There has been no House vote on that tax increase. If the tax increase is not passed, the House budget will collapse – and a budget collapse would mean a government shutdown.
It truly upsets me when special-interest groups skew the facts and cause hard-working folks to worry unnecessarily. I’m here in Olympia working through the budget negotiations on your behalf so that you don’t have to lose sleep over issues that are either nonexistent or are merely negotiating strategies. If you ever have a question regarding information you have received, I hope you’ll contact my office so I can point you to the facts.
GET Good news!
One of the biggest wins for taxpayers in the Senate budget proposal is the College Affordability Program, which would lower tuition at our state colleges and universities by an average of 25 percent. Many folks who have contacted my office are excited at the prospect of seeing higher-ed costs decrease for the first time ever.
I hope you’ll enjoy the data-driven publication, “Economic Sense,” from my colleague, Sen. John Braun. In his latest installment he lays out the reason why reducing tuition is also good news for the state’s popular Guaranteed Education Program, which allows people to pre-purchase tuition credits.