Benton Bulletin - 04/05/2013

 banner.jpg

April 5, 2013

Dear Friends,

I wouldn’t have expected the Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club to weigh in on the Columbia River Crossing project the way it did on Thursday before the Senate Transportation Committee – but as they say, the more the merrier. Please keep reading for the details.

 image1.jpg

Sen. Joe Fain of King County is our majority’s floor leader, which means he coordinates debate on legislation; as deputy majority leader I am in frequent contact with him while we’re in the Senate chamber.

For me the task of helping my legislative colleagues see the flaws in the CRC project is always on the front burner these days. However, as deputy leader of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus I’ve also been knee-deep in helping get the Senate operating-budget proposal to the point that we could bring it forward and adopt it today.

As the name implies, the operating budget pays for most state-government services and activities that aren’t related to construction or transportation (there are separate budgets for those). On Wednesday our coalition’s budget chief and the Senate Democrat-minority’s lead budget writer stood together to present their plan, which keeps the pledge our coalition made: to put a lot more money toward education while living within the state’s means. The full Senate approved this plan today with a 30-18 bipartisan vote. There are no tax increases included in our budget.

There are a little more than three weeks to go in the regular legislative session. The Senate policy committees finished their work for the year, as of Wednesday, while the two Senate fiscal committees (Ways and Means, and the committee of which I am vice chairman, Transportation) have through Tuesday to act on bills passed by and sent over to us from the House of Representatives.

After that we’ll be working exclusively in the Senate chamber, voting on House bills; I expect the House Democrats will introduce their operating-budget proposal soon, meaning some of us will also be involved in budget talks. Members of the news media are already asking for predictions about whether the Legislature will go into overtime; the way I see it, unless the governor and House majority are dead-set on raising your taxes we can still wrap up our work no later than April 28, which is on schedule.

It’s my privilege to represent you in our state Senate. Please, if you have a question or concern or comment about government, phone me or send a message. I’m here to help!

Don

Sen. Don Benton
17th Legislative District

Visit my website for more news and information!

 

Senate budget: sustainable, good for education, and no new tax increases!

I was pleased to vote for the Senate budget this evening, having been at the front of the Capitol’s State Reception Room for its unveiling Wednesday. It’s a responsible approach to increasing support for the priorities of state government that won’t hamper our state’s slow but gradual economic recovery.

As I indicated above, this bipartisan $33.3 billion operating-budget proposal would spend more on basic and higher education and pay attention to the needs of Washington’s most vulnerable citizens. Just as important, the Senate plan is balanced without a general tax increase – or the extension of higher tax rates that are scheduled to revert to their previous lower level this year.

Our Majority Coalition Caucus made it clear from day one of the 2013 session, when we assumed leadership of the Senate, how we intended to do things differently than the “other Washington.” That included recognizing that good ideas aren’t Republican or Democrat – they’re just good ideas. Our budget is proof of what can be accomplished when people decide to put the politics aside and focus on the policies that make sense for the people of our state.

That sentiment was echoed by the Senate Democrat budget leader. In published remarks Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who has been a senator since 1993 (not much longer than me), said he considered it “the most transparent bipartisan process that's ever happened.”

Between persistent unemployment, continued economic uncertainty, new demands related to public education and the need to control state spending, there was a lot facing our bipartisan majority when we took the reins of the Senate back in mid-January. We responded by making jobs, education and a sustainable budget our priorities, and with the budget adopted today we have now delivered on all three of those.

Because this plan allows the huge ‘temporary’ tax increases from 2010 to expire on schedule, and doesn’t propose new taxes, it offers the certainty our state’s job creators have been hoping to see. It also doesn’t spend more than the state expects to collect in revenue, which makes it sustainable.

I’m particularly glad that the Senate budget would provide more support for education without tax increases.

The economy is growing just enough to generate around $2 billion of additional revenue that can be put toward state services. Our plan puts the lion’s share of that toward K-12 education. Between that 11.1 percent increase in state support and the Initiative 601-style limit we’re proposing for non-education spending, it’s clear the Senate has offered a solid response to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that calls for more K-12 support.

The Senate budget also supports the “10-3-50” plan for higher education I'm sponsoring, which would decrease tuition at state-run colleges and universities by 3 percent while putting 11 percent more funding to those institutions and making $50 million in performance-based support available.

As a fiscal conservative, I might have made different choices in some areas. Still, as I predicted months ago, this puts the Senate in a position to counterbalance the House of Representatives and governor’s office, meaning the final budget that emerges this year will be more conservative than it would have been otherwise.

CRC debate rages on – at the Capitol and back at home

The Senate’s proposed transportation package, released this week, includes an $81.8 million line item for the Columbia River Crossing project. Its mere presence sparked some testimony about the CRC project at Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee.

 videoThumbnail.jpg

To start with, forensic accountant Tiffany Couch, who has done such great work sifting through CRC documents and asking tough questions, was back before the committee. She said her research shows Washington has contributed $25.7 million more to the CRC fund than Oregon, despite an interlocal agreement that calls for equal funding. Do you hear any of the CRC supporters talk about that disparity? Maybe our governor should call his Oregon counterpart and ask about that before coming back to Clark County for another try at a closed-door, rah-rah meeting. I held an impromptu news conference following that meeting he held two weeks ago; click here to view it.

Our committee also was asked Thursday to “look again” at the CRC project, and this time the request came not from someone in Clark County but the Cascade Bicycle Club (if you’re familiar with the annual spring Seattle-to-Portland bicycle ride, that’s a Cascade Bicycle Club event).

The club’s lobbyist suggested the freight-mobility and marine-traffic needs could be addressed by a project that requires less concrete – and even though proponents of the CRC project point to the bicycle and pedestrian lanes as reasons to push forward, the lobbyist said his club isn’t sure those features make it worth doing the whole project.

“We think a lot of money could be saved on those, and when you’re talking about mega-projects the amounts of money that could be saved are enough to fund enormous quantities of other projects – whether they be bicycle or otherwise,” the bicycle-club lobbyist said. “So we’d encourage you to look again at the design…and look for ways to achieve the freight-mobility goals and the seismic goals for much, much less money.”

My previous Benton Bulletin mentioned how I would be appearing on the KATU-TV public-affairs program “Your Voice, Your Vote” to debate the CRC project. If you missed it click on the image to view the discussion.

 

Ten Benton bills are one step away from House votes

See the list below to learn which of the bills I introduced this year are still on track for votes by the House before the 2013 session ends. I still have several bills in the Senate’s two fiscal committees, but it’s not clear which if any are tied to the budget closely enough for them to still move forward.

Bill

Status

Veto

ESSB 5082

Exchange facilitators

H Rules R

SB 5083

Political yard signs

H Rules R

SB 5092

Registered nurses

H Rules R

ESSB 5208

Banks, trust companies, etc.

H Rules R

SB 5258

Ballot measure ad sponsors

H Rules R

SSB 5263

Motorcycles passing

H Rules R

SSB 5264

Explosive devices

H Rules R

SB 5302

Credit unions

H Rules R

SSB 5381

Cellular devices/state empl.

H Rules R

SB 5775

Veterans/drivers' licenses

H Rules R

SSB 5088

High capacity trans./areas

H Trans

I’m very disappointed that several great bills – such as my effort to allow capital punishment for child-murderers, and my attempt to improve the security of our elections (while reducing the cost) – got bottled up in House committees and unfortunately are likely not going to progress any further this session.

Having served in the Senate for 16 years I know what it’s like to have legislation fall short. That doesn’t make it any easier, though, when you wonder who could be opposed to something that seems to be so sensible – especially when it seems to be for no reason other than outright political retaliation, as this news report indicates.