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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's a beautiful time of year at your state Capitol. Daffodils have sprouted next to the governor's mansion and are blooming. The buds on the Japanese cherry trees in front of our House office building are also now in full bloom. The Capitol campus is a great place for engagement, wedding and family photos at this time of year.
We are also awaiting the bloom of the so-called “Sine Die” tree, a magnolia on the side of the Capitol building. As legend has it, once that tree fully blossoms, it's time for the Legislature to adjourn.
The Legislature is scheduled for adjournment on Sunday, April 23. However, before that can happen, we need to complete the business of adopting new biennial operating, capital and transportation budgets. So it may be blossom time in Olympia, but it's also budget time too!
Washington state has three separate budgets that provide funding for two-year cycles. The current budget cycle ends June 30 and the 2023-25 fiscal cycle begins July 1 of this year.
The operating budget pays for the day-to-day operations of state agencies, colleges and universities, and public schools. While there may be a lot to like in the House 2023-25 operating budget proposal, my Republican colleagues and I share several concerns. First, it would increase state spending to $70 billion, a $6 billion increase over current spending levels. This would continue a trend of historic budget growth. For context, state spending has more than doubled over the last 10 years. It adds nearly 1,500 new policy-line items and leaves a small ending fund balance. The state treasurer recommends at least 10% in the Budget Stabilization Account (Rainy-Day Fund). This budget only leaves 6%. Given the uncertain economic times, it would be prudent to stick to a more responsible savings plan. The budget also falls short of adequately funding special education and supporting students suffering from learning loss.
Supporting our law enforcement
On Monday, when the operating budget bill came to the House floor for a vote, I offered an amendment to increase funding for public safety, including $126 million for law enforcement retention and recruitment, $90 million to provide body cameras for police agencies, and $10 million for the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Account. You can watch my floor amendment speech here. Also, listen to the radio report on the budget. Unfortunately, majority Democrats rejected my amendment.
A partisan plan
It is encouraging that the capital and transportation budgets were crafted in a bipartisan fashion, but disappointing the operating budget is crafted in an exclusive partisan manner. Republicans were shut out of the process. We believe the operating budget bill could have been a better proposal if all sides had worked together on it. Plus, there's still a possibility it could rely on tax increases, such as an increase in real estate excise taxes (REET). At a time when we are trying to work for solutions to make home ownership more affordable, this makes no sense. For these and other reasons, I joined with Republicans in voting “no.”
Both the House and Senate versions must now be reconciled into a single operating budget proposal. Hopefully, it emerges as a better bipartisan bill that we can support.
The transportation budget pays for transportation activities, such as designing and maintaining roads, and public transit. This year's transportation proposal would spend $13.2 billion, providing $9.8 billion for the Washington State Department of Transportation, including $1.2 billion for Washingtonian State Ferries, $646 million for Washington State Patrol, and $418 million for the Department of Licensing. In the 25th District, just over $925 million is appropriated for projects for the coming biennium, including $873 million for the Puget Sound Gateway projects (new freeway from Puyallup to Tacoma – SR 167/SR 509). The governor's transportation proposal would have delayed projects that have been in the works for years. Our House proposal differed in that it prioritizes projects already under way for completion before shifting funding to new projects.
The capital budget pays for acquiring and maintaining state buildings, public schools, higher education facilities, public lands, parks and other assets. The House proposal would appropriate $8.38 billion, including $4.18 billion in newly authorized bonds. It would leave $158 million for the 2024 supplemental capital budget. It was crafted in a bipartisan manner. The capital budget also includes $22.8 million of appropriations in the 25th District. To view those projects, go to this link, make sure the version is the “House committee (03/30/2023),” choose the 25th Legislative District from the drop-down menu, and click the “View Report” button.
Watch my budget video
To learn more about the three budgets and how they impact the 25th District, I invite you to watch my Legislative Update budget video. Also, learn more about the Washington State Supreme Court's decision on the capital gains tax. Click here or on the image below.
Police pursuit bill awaits House vote
If you've been following my email updates throughout the session, you know that I've actively encouraged passage of legislation that would restore the ability of law enforcement officers to pursue suspected criminals in vehicles under the “reasonable suspicion” standard.
On March 28, the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee passed a very watered-down version of the police pursuit measure, Senate Bill 5352. Under the amended bill, police pursuits would be allowed of those suspected of committing a violent offense, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest.
Unfortunately, it would not allow pursuit of someone driving a stolen vehicle. The reason I point this out is that 12-year-old Immaculee Goldade was killed in January 2022 in a hit-and-run crash in Midland by a man who had stolen a commercial landscaping flatbed truck. Her best friend, Kathleen Olson, also 12, was severely injured, but survived. Immaculee's mother, Amber Goldade, who was present for the committee vote, contends that if police had been able to pursue the man, he could have been caught and put back in jail, and her daughter would still be alive today.
Under the amended bill, which is currently awaiting a vote on the House floor, police still could not pursue this suspect or a suspect in a stolen vehicle until AFTER a violent offense has been committed. As Amber Goldade told a reporter, “The current gutted version of SB 5352 is weak and would not have saved the life of my daughter.”
It is my hope that we can strengthen the bill through amendments on the House floor. However, there are those in the majority party who have fought to keep any part of this bill from becoming law. So it may take Herculean efforts to convince some Democratic lawmakers to release the bill from the House Rules Committee and even bring it to the floor for a vote. We are ready to have that debate and I hope it happens soon.
Puyallup High School's Sriram Iyer serves as House page
Many thanks to Sriram Iyer, a 16-year-old student at Puyallup High School, who recently served as a House page at the state Capitol. I was honored to sponsor this young man for his week of service in the House.
Our page program is an important function of the Legislature. They help with ceremonial tasks, such as the presentation of the flags, or they may assist by handing out amendments, bills, notes and memos on the floors of the House or Senate. They also learn about state government in the Legislative Page School.
It's one thing to learn about state government in the classroom. However, it is a terrific opportunity to come to the Capitol and have an immersion experience in the legislative process.
Sriram is the son of Mahalakshmi Hariharan and Ramdas Vaidyanathan, both of Puyallup.
Learn more about the House Page Program here.
I'm here to serve and represent you!
As we complete these final two weeks of the 2023 legislative session, please remember that I work for you throughout the year. If you have questions, comments or suggestions about state government and/or legislation, please call, write or email my office. If you are having difficulties with a state agency, often my office can help. Or if you are lost navigating state government, I'm here to serve you. Please contact my office any time. You'll find my contact information below. Also, follow me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RepKellyChambers.
Again, it is my greatest honor and privilege to serve you and our citizens across the 25th District. Please stay in touch!
426 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7948 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000