Last weekend the 2017 regular session ended in Olympia. Here's a brief update of some of our biggest accomplishments:
The transportation budget
The 2017-19 transportation budget was finalized and passed on Friday before we adjourned. It allocates just over $17.6 million to the 12th District for new and ongoing transportation projects.
Here are a few of the most prominent projects you'll see nearing their completion:
- Intersection improvements and congestion relief at SR 28/Jct US 2 and US 97 to 9th St, East Wenatchee
- Intersection improvements of SR 150/No-See-Um Road, Chelan County
- Improvements to the Goodwin bridge, West Cashmere
- Improvements to the Woodin Avenue bridge, Chelan
- Railroad track repairs and improvements near Coulee City
Two major accomplishments for our region are funding for the Goodwin bridge in West Cashmere, and an amendment I sponsored that requested $280,000 of funds for the Woodin Avenue bridge in Chelan. Dozens of legislators often request funds for local projects, but very few are accepted. I'm so happy to report that my request was adopted. Improvements these bridges will help increase their structural integrity and greatly improve pedestrian safety.
Statewide, the transportation budget will help pay for the continued recruitment and retention of highly qualified state troopers; maintenance and repair to roads; removal of some fish passage barriers; and continued implementation of Connecting Washington projects.
The transportation budget will now head to the governor's desk for approval. A full list of projects included in the transportation budget may be found here.
The capital budget
Because I sit on the Capital Budget Committee, I've had the pleasure of seeing the development of the proposed House capital budget through most of the process. I'm proud to say the proposed House budget that passed off the floor last week includes more than $40 million for projects in and around the 12th District.
Below are a few of the projects I'm proud to have helped secure funds for:
- Chelan County Emergency Operations Center, Wenatchee
- City of Brewster Manganese Abatement, Brewster
- Lake Chelan community hospital & clinic replacement, Chelan
- Alta Lake water lines and electrical replacements, Alta Lake
The House and Senate are currently still negotiating what will be included in the final budget. A full list of projects included in the House capital budget may be found here.
No major tax increases have passed so far this year. The operating budget proposed by House Democrats calls for $8 billion in new taxes over the next four years. It includes creating a new capital gains income tax, modifying our already burdensome B&O tax, changing the real estate excise tax, and eliminating some tax incentives. No Democrat or Republican has voted to approve these taxes.
With $1.8 billion of new revenue reported by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC), I continue to believe it is possible to fully fund education, meet the state's basic obligations and protect our most vulnerable citizens — without new taxes. I will continue to advocate for this during special sessions.
Funding education and other unfinished business
On Monday, we began a special session. It's frustrating to see this has become a trend in recent years. When it comes to finalizing budgets, budget negotiators have found common ground in the past and I'm confident they'll be able to find it again.
Funding education will be the priority and is the final piece remaining to pass the 2017-19 operating budget. As negotiations continue, I'll look forward to standing for the same principles I have all session — providing funds that are ample, equitable and accountable.
This means giving teachers a higher starting salary, providing equitable opportunities for students in all districts of Washington, and ensuring schools be held accountable for the fund allocations we provide.
Fixing the Hirst decision, which has eradicated water rights for land owners in Washington state, is something we'll get another chance to accomplish during the special session. Senate Bill 5239, which would put the responsibility back on the Department of Ecology to determine water availability, died in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year. When the legislature enters special session, however, all bills return to their chamber of origin. This means we'll continue pushing for a solution to this critical problem.
During the interim
During special sessions, I'll do as much work as I can from Chelan. I'll return to Olympia when the time comes to vote on education, the budget and other critical issues.
I'm currently setting up my district office on 216 E. Woodin Ave, Suite 3 in Chelan. I hope you'll consider visiting over the summer and sharing your questions and thoughts with me. The best way to reach me during this time will be via email at Mike.Steele@leg.wa.gov.
It has been a truly been an honor serving you this session.