State Rep. Mike Steele (R) provided his perspective on the 105 day legislative session opening Monday in Olympia.
As we head into the legislative session, there will be a great deal of focus on proposals for the state’s 2019-21 operating budget. Fortunately, our healthy economy has produced a more than $4 billion increase in revenue. Despite this unexpected financial windfall, the governor’s budget proposal would require taxpayers to contribute an additional $9 billion over the next four years. This would be funded in part by a capital gains income tax, in business-tax rates for services, and a “progressive” real-estate excise tax. This plan also calls for an increase in state spending by 75 percent over the next eight years. Taxes of this magnitude could have a chilling effect on our state’s recent economic growth.
Why more spending?
State spending on operating budget items has grown by nearly $20 billion over the past ten years. You might expect this increased spending has produced better government services. However, state agencies have consistently failed to live up to those expectations. Some examples include Western State Hospital’s failure to meet federal standards of safety and care, as well as the early release of 3,200 felons by the Department of Corrections in 2015.
Instead of asking taxpayers for more money, our focus needs to be on delivering existing programs effectively and efficiently. Hard-working individuals and families deserve a government that lives within its means, not more taxes.
Recently, I was selected as the ranking member for the House Education Committee. For the past few years, this Committee has been in the spotlight as it worked to reform K-12 education funding for the state. I’m excited to tackle this new leadership role.
In 2018, we made sweeping changes to funding for K-12 staff salaries. However, the new funding model—designed to lower school districts reliance on local property taxes to pay teacher and staff salaries—may need to be re-examined and, if necessary, adjusted. In the past few years, we’ve invested billions of additional funds into K-12 education. However, for some school districts, the dollars are not stretching far enough. We need to dig into the numbers and find out why.
Career Connected Learning
In my new role on the Education Committee, one of my key priorities will be re-focusing attention on student success. One way we can achieve that is through the expansion of career and technical education and career-connected training. These educational programs help prepare and grow the workforce of the future. Students have the opportunity to explore career options and pursue interests outside of the traditional four-year college route. This is a win for both students and businesses looking for applicants with the right skill-sets.
Other committee assignments
Among my other assignments is a new leadership role as the assistant ranking member for the House Capital Budget Committee. This committee oversees funding for many construction and infrastructure projects throughout the state—including school remodeling and construction costs. This type of project funding is vital to the continued growth of our communities.
My plan this year is to examine and support local infrastructure projects that could bring more workforce housing to our region. “Workforce” is a term used for a targeted group of essential workers, typically young professionals, like retail salespeople, office workers, and other middle-income professionals. Too often, these young professionals, although gainfully employed, are unable to afford homeownership. With more affordable housing options we can encourage them to live, work and raise their families in our district.
I will also be serving on the House Appropriations Committee, which considers bills with large budget impacts and other fiscal matters. This is an exciting opportunity for me to help shape a better financial future for our state.