2015 legislative session makes history – in several ways

 2015 legislative session makes history – in several ways
By Sen. Mike Hewitt, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey

The 2015 session lasted much longer than anticipated – a record 176 days – but a number of good things came of this extended session. We passed a new, balanced, bipartisan operating budget that did not rely on new general tax increases. The new budget makes historic investments in early learning, K-12, higher education and the mental-health system. Additional funding was allocated to in-home health care providers, long-term care, and developmental-disability programs for our most vulnerable citizens. The Legislature also agreed on capital and transportation packages that invest in infrastructure across the state.

Here are some highlights from the session:

Lower tuition: Republican lawmakers led the drive for tuition cuts at state-run colleges and universities – a first in state history. All in-state undergraduate students will see a 5 percent tuition cut this fall and an additional 10-15 percent cut in fall 2016. Lower tuition is the best form of financial aid, because it decreases the debt burden for students and middle-class families. Future tuition growth will be tied to the state’s median wage.

A sensible approach to taxes: Washington’s economy is recovering. The state is expected to collect an additional $3.2 billion in revenue this biennium: therefore we did not agree with, nor see the need for, the governor’s cap-and-trade tax and the Democrats’ capital-gains tax proposals. The state’s economy remains fragile, however, and many working families are still struggling to make ends meet. Now is not the time for significant tax increases that place additional burdens on families and small businesses.

We were successful in maintaining some important tax preferences that promote economic development and jobs in our district and across the state. One industry we were able to help, which is prevalent in our district, is food and wine processors. Without an extension of the current tax exemption, these processors would struggle to be competitive.

Support for public schools: Washington’s constitution is clear that it is the “paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children…”  More than 47 percent of the new operating budget funds K-12 education. This is the largest education investment in decades.

This record investment in our public-school system includes $1.3 billion for K-3 class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten, and school districts’ maintenance, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC). The additional money goes towards satisfying the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision regarding K-12 funding. Also, teachers will receive the voter-approved (Initiative 732) cost-of-living adjustment along with an additional one-time salary adjustment, which equates to a combined 4.8 percent salary increase this biennium.

Package of new transportation investments:  Each of us voted in favor of the new transportation package. The new package includes the following essential components for us to support it: First, reforms to improve efficiency and accountability at the state Department of Transportation; second, a sizable allocation for repairing and preserving existing highways and bridges; and a project list that funds critical infrastructure throughout our state and district.

Washington is uniquely positioned to compete in the global marketplace. Exporting industries, including agriculture, need a reliable transportation system to ensure our products efficiently reach our ports. The new package makes a significant investment in our state’s infrastructure toward reducing traffic congestion.  It also includes funding for important projects in our district, including the Red Mountain/Interstate 82 interchange, Pasco’s Lewis Street overpass project, and the seventh phase of the U.S. Highway 12 project from Nine Mile Hill to the Woodward Canyon vicinity.

We are pleased to be back home in the 16th Legislative District. Although the Legislature has adjourned, we continue to be at your service. Here’s how to reach us:

Sen. Mike Hewitt
Website: www.senatormikehewitt.com
Email: mike.hewitt@leg.wa.gov
Phone: (360) 786-7630

Rep. Maureen Walsh
Website: www.representativemaureenwalsh.com
Email: maureen.walsh@leg.wa.gov
Phone:  (509) 527-4151

Rep. Terry Nealey
Website: www.representativeterrynealey.com
Email: terry.nealey@leg.wa.gov
Phone:  (509) 526-6284

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Editor’s note: Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-College Place) and Rep. Terry Nealey (R-Dayton) serve the 16th District.