Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Many of our constituents across the 14th District have likely received the 2012 Legislative Review newsletter that my seatmate, Rep. Charles Ross, and I sent through the mail. It provides a good synopsis of the 60-day regular session this year and the two special sessions that followed. If you have not received a copy, I invite you to download it by clicking here or on the photo at right. It is in an Adobe PDF format. If your computer is unable to read the file, you can download a free reader program from Adobe on its Web site which will enable you to read the file.
Since this is an election year, certain restrictions soon take effect in how I can communicate with you. For example, after today, May 11, I will no longer be able to send out e-mail updates due to legislative ethics rules. Also, after June 30, I am unable to initiate communications with constituents by mail or e-mail unless you contact me about an issue or request information. These restrictions remain in effect until Nov. 30, and they are meant to ensure that no taxpayer-supported state resources are used to assist a candidate or a campaign.
I still work for you throughout the year, so I encourage you to contact my district office in Yakima any time you have a question, comment or concern about a state issue or need assistance with a state agency.
DISTRICT OFFICE NOW OPEN
Although Sen. Curtis King maintains a local Senate office, there has never been a full-time in-district State House office in Yakima that I know of – that is, until now. The week following adjournment of the regular session on March 8, I opened a new 14th District legislative office at 421 N. 20th Avenue, Suite A, in Yakima. It is located just off West Lincoln Avenue near Keeler's Medical Supply. It is staffed by my legislative assistant, Gale Sackman, who has lived and worked in Yakima for many years.
I believe it is important to make sure government is easily accessible to the people it serves. This new local office is providing convenient access for citizens to come and discuss legislative matters and other state government issues that affect their lives.
The office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. I invite you to drop by if you have any questions or suggestions about state government. Also, if you would like to set up an appointment to meet with me, the district office phone number is: (509) 454-7210.
PRIORITIES OF THE BUDGET
As we discussed in the 2012 Legislative Review mailer, aside from some social-related issues, much of the time spent during the sessions was focused on closing a $1 billion operating budget shortfall. Along with my fellow House Republicans, we identified three core priorities that we felt must be funded first in the budget:
- Education – As a former educator in the Mabton and Toppenish school districts, I know how important it is to ensure our schools are properly funded. In fact, the state Constitution says it is our “paramount duty.” The state Supreme Court ruled in January that the Legislature was not living up to this duty. House Republicans proposed a measure that would fund education first before any other state programs. Although that bill did not pass, we made sure K-12 education funding was maintained without further cuts in the supplemental operating budget and also maintained levy equalization dollars for our local schools.
- Protect the most vulnerable – This is an issue very important to me. I talk with many senior citizens who worry about reductions in services they depend upon. I also have fought to protect and provide a voice for those with developmental disabilities. I strongly opposed reductions in the budget that could impact seniors and those with mental health challenges.
- Ensure public safety – The senseless gang violence in our local communities underscores how vital it is to support local law enforcement. We held firm in budget negotiations that we would not sacrifice programs that keep our neighborhoods safe. In addition, I worked with Rep. Connie Ladenburg, whose husband is former Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg, to expand the use of juvenile gang courts across the state. The nation's first gang court began here in Yakima. It emphasizes treatment and programs that help young offenders turn away from a life of crime – and gives them one chance to do it right. Otherwise, a full sentence is imposed. So far, of the 10 kids in the program, only one has re-offended. I co-sponsored House Bill 2535 to encourage establishment of juvenile gang courts in counties that want to pursue such a strategy. The measure passed the Legislature and was signed into law by the governor.
CONCERNS OF THE BUDGET
Although there were many things to like about the supplemental operating budget that passed the Legislature, I voted against it for several reasons:
- It counts on a one-time accounting change to the state's cash flow, but uses this one-time money for ongoing expenses;
- It is not a sustainable plan; and
- It leaves a dangerously low reserve – only $311 million. Of that amount, $238 million is a change in how local sales tax monies are accounted for. So in reality, the true ending-fund balance is $73 million, which is less than TWO DAYS worth of reserves based on state expenses. We still have five revenue forecasts remaining before the new budget cycle begins in July 2013. Even one slightly down forecast c
ould immediately wipe away this paltry ending-fund balance. That could mean the Legislature would have to return in another special session to again balance the operating budget.
SUPPLEMENTAL CAPITAL BUDGET
The capital budget was also finalized in the last hours of this year's second special session. This $1.07 billion budget pays for the construction and repair of public buildings and other long-term investments, such as land acquisitions and transfers. It also lends money to local governments and nonprofit organizations for infrastructure, housing, and cultural and heritage facilities. For a complete list of projects included in the 14th District, please visit this Web site, enter “14th Legislative District” and click on “View Report.”
PRIVATE-SECTOR JOB CREATION – A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
With more than 288,000 people in Washington out of work and looking for jobs, I felt one of our top priorities of the session was working toward passage of legislation that would help to stimulate our state's economy and lead to more jobs in the private sector. My House Republican colleagues and I proposed a package of bills that we called, “Let's Get Washington Working Again!” Our proposals included such ideas as improved permitting processes, a simpler tax structure for small business, less expensive workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and reducing excessive regulation against employers. Although the majority party did not allow those bills to move forward, we were successful in stopping many job-killer bills and legislation that would have hurt small business.
I am honored to have been chosen by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) for its “Guardian of Small Business Award” and for the Association of Washington Business “Cornerstone Award” for my voting record in support of employers and small businesses across the state. I will continue seeking ways to improve our state's economy and get Washington working again!
I INVITE YOUR COMMENTS
Some of the best ideas for legislation come from the citizens I serve. For example, several people wrote to me at the end of last year with concerns that they had received a bill charging a “facility fee” for receiving services at a hospital-owned medical clinic. The fee was not disclosed to them before they received services and it was not covered by insurance companies. So I introduced House Bill 2582, which requires hospital-owned clinics to provide upfront disclosure of facility fees. The bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law.
I am always interested in your suggestions and comments that could help to improve the quality of life for all citizens across this great state of Washington. Feel free to contact me at any time. I am here to represent and serve you!