My last e-mail update to you was in May, prior to the election-freeze, when legislative ethics kicked in which prevented me from sending out updates until after the election. The freeze was lifted Dec. 1. So before I take some holiday time with my family, I wanted to provide a brief update of legislative activities.
Budgets and the 2013 session
The 2013 legislative session begins Jan. 14 and will continue for 105 days (through the end of April). During that time, it is the Legislature's primary responsibility to craft three budgets for the two-year fiscal cycle, which begins July 1, 2013. Those three budgets include:
- Operating – The budget that pays for the day-to-day operations of state government (including state and federal funds, and dedicated funds);
- Capital – The budget used to acquire and maintain state buildings, public schools, higher education facilities, public lands, parks and other assets; and
- Transportation – The budget that pays for transportation activities, such as designing and maintaining roads and public transit. This budget also funds the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Licensing.
Most of the money the state uses to pay for services comes from state taxes, such as the sales tax, property tax, and the Business and Occupation tax – which taxes businesses on their gross receipts. Washington is one of seven states without a state income tax. Since most of our revenue is economic-dependent, when Washington's economy is thriving, the state has enjoyed revenue surpluses. However, since the end of 2008 when the economy slumped into a recession, incoming state revenue has dropped, resulting in some record budget deficits. Although our economy has slightly picked up, it's expected that when the Legislature meets in January, we will be dealing with a projected $2 billion budget shortfall.
There's also debate about how much money the Legislature will need to provide for education to satisfy the requirements of a state Supreme Court ruling nearly a year ago. You can read more about the budget challenges we face in this Washington State Wire story: State's budget hole at least $2 billion deep.
- Jobs – My colleagues and I will be collectively seeking ways to jump-start our state's economy and put it back on the road to recovery. Getting people back to work is the most effective way to solve our state's budget crisis.
- Critical access hospital funding – During the 2012 legislative session, my 14th District colleagues, Rep. Charles Ross, Sen. Curtis King and I successfully fought against a proposal that would have significantly reduced funding for critical access hospitals across the state – many of which serve rural populations. In some cases, the reductions would have resulted in hospital closures. We worked to help convince the majority party this was not a good proposal. In the coming session, we are looking at an entirely new budget and I am concerned that critical access hospital funding could be back on the chopping block once again. Since redistricting, the 14th District has picked up Klickitat and Skamania counties, and the eastern portion of Clark County, which are served by Skyline Hospital in White Salmon and Klickitat Valley Hospital in Goldendale. I've already been in contact with the chair of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee to set the foundation for protecting funding for these critical access hospitals.
- Tax fairness for state-owned lands – If you purchase property, you're obligated to pay property taxes to support local government, including schools, public safety and infrastructure. However, if the state buys property, that land becomes tax-exempt and revenues collected on that property to support local services are extremely limited. An enormous amount of the new 14th District is made up of state- and federally-owned lands – all of which are now tax exempt. I have been working with several state legislators to determine the feasibility of the state paying its fair share on the property that has been taken off the tax rolls. Many of our local governments are struggling to provide local services. This may be one of the ways to keep our property taxes low while providing local governments and our schools with badly-needed financial support.
Better access to your government
Technology is rapidly changing as we grow to an ever mobile society. Fortunately, I work with some very talented people in the Legislature who are keeping on top of technology to ensure you have the best access to your government and your state representatives. Over the interim, they've been working to expand your ability to connect to your Legislature. Here are some of the changes that were recently made:
- New Web site: Both my Web site and the Washington House Republicans' Web site have been redesigned. You can access them here: http://houserepublicans.wa.gov/norm-johnson and houserepublicans.wa.gov.
- Use of social media: Washington House Republicans have been using Twitter for about four years (http://twitter.com/WaHouseGOP). Look for a new Washington House Republican Facebook page coming in January where you can sign up to get the latest legislative news.
- New e-mail distribution: I have moved my e-mail list from a state service to a third-party provider called GovDelivery. While my e-mails will still come from me, the e-mail address appears different. You can respond directly to the e-mail and it will come to me, even though my reply e-mail address will look different. You can still e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also see a logo for GovDelivery at the very end of my e-mails. You may need to adjust your spam filters to accept e-mails from an address with “@updates.leg.wa.gov.”
- Watch and subscribe to my video updates on YouTube: This is a great way to get the latest legislative news from the 14th District on your computer, smart phone or tablet. Go here: www.youtube.com/user/WAHouseVideo/videos?query=johnson.
- Subscribe to my audio podcasts: During the legislative session, I'll be doing a weekly program called “Capitol Report” that will also be airing on some of our local radio stations. You can listen to those reports and subscribe by going here: http://wahousegop.hipcast.com/rss/johnson.xml. In addition, my report will be included in the Washington House Republicans' Capitol Report podcasts, which are available in the iTunes Store. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can subscribe to these reports here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/capitol-report-washington/id579017734.
- View my photos in Flickr: I have a new photo gallery for public access at: http://www.flickr.com/search/?ss=2&w=39076387%40N04&q=norm-johnson.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
Across the street from my office is the state Capitol building where, this week, workers have been erecting the state Holiday Tree inside the rotunda. As I look at this tree and the beautiful marble walls that surround it, I am reminded of how special this time of year is. Christmas is a time to celebrate with family. I am fortunate that along with my five grown sons, I have an extended family, including 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I'll be seeing many of them during this holiday season and celebrating our blessings. I hope you have the opportunity to celebrate with your family and friends as well. I look forward to serving you in the coming years.