Legislative Session 2016: A path forward for Skagit Valley and the state

As the saying goes, when your neighbor loses their job, it’s a recession – but when you do, it’s a depression.  I think that describes in part why people outside the Skagit Valley do not feel the same urgency we do to fix the water-access issue that has left so many Skagit property owners with decimated property values and in jeopardy of losing water access.  While progress can be hard, especially with adversarial courts, I refuse to give up seeking a solution for people who, after following all the rules and through no fault of their own, are suffering.

It’s a baby step, but legislation I sponsored, Senate Bill 6589 will now require state agencies in charge of water management to study the feasibility of water storage to recharge the Skagit River basin so that users of permit-exempt wells may have year-round water.  To be clear, a study is not a solution, but it does provide hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for property owners who have been so devastated.  Sometimes you have to look long term to see the full picture.

The same is true of the supplemental budget we passed this legislative session.  There are those that focus on expenditures and programs that didn’t get an increase, point to those items on their wish-list, and insist we’re seeing a failure.  But that’s a narrow and distorted view.  If we were to spend one-time money on long-term programs, like what House Democrats had proposed, we’d have many interests celebrating in the short term, but come the 2017 session we’d be in for a round of painful cuts or big tax hikes. That’s why we refused to gut the four-year balanced-budget law, spend one-time rainy-day funds for long-term programs, or put off paying for K-12 class-size reduction.

Living within our means isn’t difficult.  For four years in a row, our Senate majority has produced a balanced budget that does not raise taxes, added $4.6 billion to K-12 education, increased protections for the most vulnerable, added resources for the mentally ill, and maintained the state’s rainy-day fund for future emergencies or economic slowdowns.

A college education is increasingly important for young people to be competitive in the job market, but tuition costs have been skyrocketing.  As University of Colorado Law Professor Paul F. Campos pointed out in The New York Times, if prices for new cars had kept pace with tuition over the past 30 years, the average new car would carry an $80,000 price tag.   But in Washington we are making history by cutting college tuition for a second straight year.  We were already the only state in the nation to reduce tuition costs in 2015, and now, before any other state does it once, we’re doing it again. The new supplemental budget fully funds the second phase of cuts which will slash tuition an additional 10 percent in the upcoming school year for the University of Washington and Washington State University students, and an additional 15 percent at other four-year schools.

I want us to go even further than reducing tuition, which is why I am so pleased the Legislature just passed my legislation to begin a “degree in three” plan.  We’re going to find out which degree programs could be completed in three years instead of four or five, so that students can have another way of saving money on their college degree and be able to get a jump ahead in the world of work.

While it took longer than I expected for the Legislature to reach agreement on revisions to the budget, the big picture shows a brighter future for Washington and our part of the state.  I am proud to be a part of building it and thank you for the honor of being your state senator.