Senate delivers ‘clean sweep’ on budget, transportation and tuition cuts

Apr 24, 2015

OLYMPIA… Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, today marked the end of the Legislature’s regular session with a long list of major legislation passed by the Senate including a no-new-taxes budget, bipartisan transportation package, college-tuition cuts, public-safety measures, addressed critical mental health issues and a capital budget that builds 2,100 classrooms to lower class size from kindergarten through third grade.

“The Senate delivered on every major issue this session,” said Schoesler, “It’s a ‘clean sweep’ on keeping our promise to prioritize education, bring tax relief to middle-class families and live within our means with $3 billion in added revenue.”

Schoesler added the Senate had done its job and passed all the bills necessary to implement a new state operating budget.

“We’re disappointed in the delay tactics by House Democrats who have yet to pass a complete operating budget, or act on a transportation package,” said Schoesler. “We can’t negotiate with ‘phantom’ money and the House Democrats have yet to pass $1.5 billion in added taxes to cover their spending wish list. In addition, we have a broken transportation system that desperately needs reforms and major improvements to our roads and bridges – and still, no action from the House majority.”

Now that Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a special session to continue budget negotiations, Schoesler said lawmakers need to be responsive to a critical May 15 deadline for the state’s school districts.

“Delay is bad enough,” said Schoesler. “School districts face a budget-planning deadline of May 15, and without a specific appropriation, they must send out pink slips to teachers and other employees. They also can’t start hiring the new teachers both chambers have agreed to fund. We’re hugely increasing education funding and these delays put schools, teachers and important programs in limbo.”

Schoesler added that members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus would be back in Olympia Monday. “Our committee chairs are planning work sessions and committee hearings to keep momentum going with the goal of finishing budget negotiations before the May 15 deadline,” Schoesler said.

Since the Senate has passed a complete operating budget and bipartisan transportation package, Schoesler said the governor’s “ultimatum on raising taxes” has not been helpful to budget-negotiation efforts. “Governor Inslee has given the Legislature an ultimatum to pass the largest tax increase in state history or we don’t get a budget deal. This threat of a D.C. style government shutdown doesn’t belong in this Washington,” said Schoesler.

Schoesler noted the Senate’s many accomplishments on behalf of families across Washington, as part of or in addition to its viable operating budget and bipartisan transportation package, including:

Full funding of K-12 education – 47 percent of the Senate budget is dedicated to basic education. As a percentage of the budget, it hasn’t been that high since Gov. John Spellman was in office (1981-85). The Senate budget adds $1.3 billion for K-12 schools, addressing the 2012 McCleary court decision and providing teacher cost-of-living pay raises.

First tuition reduction in over 40 years – The Senate budget, coupled with its College Affordability Program legislation (Senate Bill 5954), would cut college tuition at four-year institutions by an average of 25 percent, helping 200,000 students and saving families over $300 million through lower college costs.

A capital budget that builds 2,100 classrooms – This complements the Senate operating-budget priority on lowering class sizes for K-3 grades (the House capital budget does not).

Tougher drunken-driving law – 4th DUI in 10 years is now charged as a felony, meaning state prison instead of county jail.

Energy and carbon reduction plan – The Senate led the way on clean energy with passage of Senate Bill 5735, a practical carbon-reduction plan. This measure does not require the large and damaging tax increases favored by the governor. No action was taken in the House.

Oil-train safety – Senate Bill 5057 provides equipment and advance notification to emergency agencies.

Reconciled medical marijuana system with recreational market – Senate Bill 5052 will protect patients and add safeguards for kids.

Telemedicine – Senate Bill 5175 expands use of interactive technology to give rural areas more access to health care.

Mental health – Senate Bill 5269, known as ‘Joel’s Law’ to give families more options to protect loved ones dealing with mental illness.

Senior citizen property-tax exemption – Senate Bill 5186 helps 100,000 low-income seniors stay in their homes.

Government accountability – One of the country’s most ambitious state-government quality-assurance agendas passed with bipartisan support. SB 5737 gives state government the accountability tools it needs to improve quality and measure savings.

“We’re at the table and ready to negotiate a pro-education, no-new-taxes budget that allows us to honor our commitment to the taxpayers and school districts of this state,” Schoesler said.