Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Negotiators continue to edge closer to an agreement on the 2015-17 operating budget as we end the first week of the second special session. House Democrats and Senate Republicans recently released their updated operating budget proposals, both of which show efforts to come to a compromise.
House Democrats, who had been insisting on $1.5 billion in new taxes for most of the session, have lowered that number to $550 million through a new capital gains tax. They continue to hold onto the hope of a tax increase, but May's revenue forecast showed that we don't need to raise taxes. The state will have $3.2 billion in new revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle, which is a 9.2 percent increase from the last budget cycle.
We have more than enough revenue to invest in the priorities of state government while living within our means. Even Gov. Inslee, who advocated for a $1.4 billion tax package, recently rescinded his support. It is now time for negotiators to finish their task and produce a long-term, sustainable operating budget that doesn't raise taxes.
School testing reform passes the House
We recently passed an important piece of legislation on the House floor. House Bill 2214 alleviates some of the testing pressure that has been put on high school students as they look to graduate. The system currently in place consists of seven different tests, with the state spending $70-$80 million per year to score these tests. House Bill 2214 would bring that number down from seven to three, which would save the state $30 million per year. I was proud to be a 'yes' vote on the bill, which passed overwhelmingly with an 87-7 vote.
Attending the Confluence Listening Circle dedication in Clarkston
Last week, I attended the Confluence Listening Circle dedication at Chief Timothy Park in Clarkston. It was wonderful to see hundreds of people come together for the dedication, including Nez Perce tribal elders, the Waahp Qahqun Drum group, and Nez Perce Appaloosa horses and riders. The Listening Circle, which was designed by artist Maya Lin (on the right in the photo with me on the bottom right), is an earthen amphitheater sculpted into the landscape with cut basalt stones. It is based on a Nez Perce blessing ceremony performed at Chief Timothy Park in 2005.
The Listening Circle is the fifth Confluence site on the Columbia River, which are designed to connect people to the region and teach them history that stretches back seven generations to the discoveries of Lewis and Clark.
I was thankful for the opportunity to attend and observe the dedication ceremony, meet the Nez Perce tribal leaders, and celebrate Maya Lin's wonderful architecture.
Other happenings in the 9th District
I attended the 2015 Lentil Festival poster unveiling in Pullman on Wednesday, and am proud to report that I will be stirring the lentil chili pot this year. The festival is taking place August 21-22, 2015. I'm looking forward to it!
On Thursday morning, I had breakfast with members of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, which is located in Cheney. It was great to meet with business leaders and discuss ways to work together to bring jobs and further economic growth to the 9th.
Earlier this morning, Rep. Joe Schmick and I attended the reopening ceremony at the Lyons Ferry State Park, which is located at the mouth of the Palouse River near Starbuck. The park was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1969 and operated as a state park until 2002, when budget issues forced the state to cancel its lease. I am thrilled to see the park reopen, and much of the credit is due to Sen. Mark Schoesler, who secured funding to help State Parks make improvements at the site and re-enter a lease agreement with the Corps. I also want to thank the many, many volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to maintaining the park until funding could be secured to reopen it. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.
A word on the 2016-17 Columbia River lock system closure
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently issued a press release announcing the Columbia River lock system closure that will begin in December 2016. The 14-week-long closure will affect all navigation locks operated by the Corps on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The Corps said they wanted to give a heads-up to commercial navigation businesses and their customers well in advance. According to the release, critical repairs and improvements currently planned during the lock outage include:
- The Dalles Lock and Dam – The upstream gate and critical portions of the navigation lock controls require replacement. The downstream gate was replaced during fiscal year 2011 (FY11) extended lock outage. The gudgeon anchors, however, were not included during the FY11 closure and will be replaced during fiscal year 2017 (FY17) extended lock outage.
- Ice Harbor Lock and Dam – A very high priority for the Walla Walla District is new operating machinery for the downstream gate at Ice Harbor. Critical components of the machinery require complete replacement during the extended closure.
- Lower Monumental Lock and Dam – A new downstream lock gate was installed at Lower Monumental during FY11 extended maintenance closure. The second phase of this installation is the replacement of the mechanical gear that operates the gate. The newly installed downstream gate is heavier than the original, and the existing gears have reached the end of their service life.
- Little Goose Lock and Dam – the downstream gate land-side gudgeon was replaced in April 2014. However, additional work is needed during FY17 closure to fully complete replacement of all downstream gudgeon arms and pintles. The miter gate quoin blocks and other structural items are also in need of repair, as the hinges on which the gate rests have fractured welds, causing structural failure.
I will make sure to keep you posted on future developments regarding the upcoming outage.
Please continue to get in touch with me with any questions, comments or concerns you have regarding the Legislature or the 9th District. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (360) 786-7942.
It is an honor to serve you.