E-ALERT – The Legislature has adjourned!
I’m glad to be back home in Spokane Valley following adjournment of the 30-day special session Wednesday night.
The House passed an operating budget on Tuesday that was later approved Wednesday by the Senate. I voted against this $32.2 billion spending plan for several reasons, including:
- It makes deep cuts to education – our state’s paramount duty. In fact, 41 percent of the reductions in this budget come from education;
- It puts public safety at risk. There will be 2,119 fewer offenders on active supervision;
- It funds a program that pays people to drive to work together;
- It cancels the sale of the governor’s airplanes; and
- It expands a program that pays the rent for recently released felons.
With an additional $4 billion of revenue expected over the previous biennial budget, I’m very disappointed that once again they failed to prioritize spending.
HOLDING THE LINE ON INCREASING STATE DEBT
On Wednesday, we passed a capital budget that came in the form of three bills:
- House Bill 1497 includes projects funded by cash accounts in the capital budget. It passed the House 94-0.
- House Bill 2020 includes more debt in the form of bond authorization and projects funded by those bonds, paid out over 25 years. It passed the House 84-10.
- Senate Bill 5181 sets a statutory debt limit reduction from 8.75 percent to 7.75 percent by 2020. It passed the House 79-14.
Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review wrote what I considered a fair article about the capital budget debate, which also carried a photo of me speaking on the House floor. (Click here to read the article.) Unfortunately, the caption of the photo was somewhat misleading, saying: “Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argues against the capital budget supported by some $1.1 billion in bond sales.”
In fact, I did NOT argue against the capital budget. I voted for it, as you can see above in House Bill 1497, which passed the House unanimously. Instead, the caption would have been correct if it had read, “Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argues against the capital budget BONDING BILL, which contains $1.1 billion in bond sales.”
I argued against and voted against House Bill 2020, the bonding bill, because it puts the state deeper into debt. Also, 10 percent of the bonding bill goes to land acquisitions at a time when we cannot even manage the lands we have. Here’s what I said during that debate: “It’s really simple. We’ve maxed out our credit card, Mr. Speaker. We don’t need to do a study about that necessarily. I think it’s pretty clear. We do need to reduce our debt. I don’t think now is the time to do this.” If you would like to view the debate, click here. My comments are at 35:26 into the video.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REFORM – SHEA BREAKS LOGJAM
Much of what was holding up action on the operating budget was an impasse on discussions over workers’ compensation reform. The Senate passed a bipartisan measure, Senate Bill 5566, which included a voluntary lump-sum settlement option. A similar measure, House Bill 2109, was introduced in the House. Unfortunately, the state labor unions did not like the lump-sum settlement option because they were worried that all the cash would be spent up front and the worker would not have any money left over for later. Because of that concern, House Speaker Frank Chopp would not allow the workers’ compensation bills to advance in the House.
We needed workers’ compensation reform this year for several important reasons, but primarily this: The state-run system has been both costly and inefficient. The state auditor has said there is a 95 percent chance our system will become insolvent in the next five years. That means only two options: much higher rate hikes against employers to support a failing system – or comprehensive reform of the system. At a time when profit margins are so thin and many employers are on the razor’s edge of keeping their doors open, unaffordable double-digit workers’ compensation premium increases well into the future could easily seal their doom. To keep the system solvent and help businesses keep their doors open, we had to move forward with reforming our state’s workers’ compensation system.
After speaking with trial attorneys and labor representatives, I suggested a method we use in tort law called ‘structured settlements’ that are paid o
ut over time so that all the money cannot be used at once. The conferees negotiating reform legislation agreed this would be the best method. It broke the logjam that had held up workers’ compensation reform and the budget. The new legislation, House Bill 2123, authorizes claim resolution structured settlement agreements initially for workers age 55 or older, then age 53 or older beginning in 2015, and age 50 or older beginning in 2016, and establishes minimum and maximum periodic payments. The bill also creates a “stay at work” program that authorizes employers to receive a wage subsidy and reimbursements for employing an injured worker at light duty or transitional work.
I WORK FOR YOU THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
Although both the regular and special sessions have come to a close, I continue to work for you throughout the year. Please contact my office any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about state government or legislation. For your convenience, I maintain a district office in Spokane Valley. Here is the address and phone number:
502 S. Sullivan Rd., Suite 207
Spokane Valley, WA 99037
Phone: (509) 921-2353
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!