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Addressing our community’s priorities for government | Guest Column
The Legislature adjourned in mid-March and I’m pleased that we were able to take meaningful steps in support of Washington students, our most vulnerable citizens and veterans and their families. During the 2014 session, I sponsored successful legislation that: provides services to an additional 5,000 people with developmental disabilities without costing the state money; supports para-educators who are an essential part of our public school system, providing a great deal of instruction especially for children with special needs; and protects veterans from financial scams.
But as the Senate’s chief budget writer, my primary task was updating state spending. Similar to the two-year plan I crafted in 2013, this year’s budget update prioritized education, received overwhelming bipartisan support and didn’t raise taxes on individuals or businesses.
Those results were possible thanks to last year’s work creating a sustainable spending plan that left us deficit-free for the first time since 2008.
I entered this year’s session with three budget priorities and left with results that address the requests and concerns I hear from members of our community.
Almost two-thirds of spending increases went toward education, adding to the $1 billion increase for basic education last year.
The plan also does not allow tuition increases at state colleges and universities for the second year in a row, which hasn’t happened since 1980.
Adding to the focus on students, the budget provided an additional $25 million investment in the Opportunity Scholarship, a public-private partnership for students from low- and middle-income families studying high-demand career fields. This program prepares Washington students for good Washington jobs.
Live within taxpayer means
This year’s budget update is sustainable and continues meeting the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement while not raising taxes on Washington residents and businesses.
Our state’s economy continues to improve, but is recovering slowly as is the national economy. Allowing job creators to grow by not changing their cost structures was important for small- and medium-sized businesses in King County’s Eastside and statewide.
The overall plan increased state spending by $155 million, which is less than 1 percent of the $33.7 billion budget. Spending beyond our means and entering the 2015 session with a deficit would make it increasingly difficult to address our paramount duty to properly fund K-12 education.
Broad, bipartisan support
This year’s budget was built and approved in an open and bipartisan manner. While I believe that’s how government should work, it has not always been the case in Washington state and especially Washington, D.C.
Last year as a new budget writer, I opened up the process to keep members from both sides of the aisle involved in a collaborative manner. This year was no different and my colleague Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, the Senate minority caucus budget leader, repeatedly described this year and last as the most open and collaborative budget-writing process he’d ever seen in his almost 30 years in the Legislature.
The results were clear as the final plan received 48 of 49 votes from the Senate and 85 of 98 in the House of Representatives, the most broad support in at least the last two decades.
I hope this recent change represents to Washington taxpayers and residents that government can work — even divided government — if people are willing to work together.
Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond represents the 45th Legislative District in the Washington State Senate and is chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.