OLYMPIA… Washington lawmakers wrapped up their 2015 legislative session Friday with what state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, calls “a victory for the rest of Washington” – the vast area outside metropolitan Seattle that has not shared in the urban economic boom.
All told, lawmakers met for a record 176 days this year.
Sen. Sheldon, who caucuses with the Senate Majority Coalition, said it may have taken that long for many legislators to concede reality. “I think it took longer than it should have because my fellow Democrats had trouble accepting that we did not need to raise taxes,” he said. “Six months ago, they were telling us that we faced a $2 billion deficit and we needed the biggest tax increase in state history. We never needed it, and in the end, because our Majority Coalition in the Senate stood together, we managed to prove it.
“We passed a budget that did everything we needed to do, and then some, without a general tax increase. It is the best budget for K-12 education we have seen in three decades. We even became the first state in the country to enact a dramatic reduction in college tuition, in effect giving the middle class a tax cut.”
Sheldon noted that the $38.2 billion budget deal makes improvements in social services and gives teachers and state employees a cost-of-living salary increase. A transportation package, meanwhile, is tied to big reforms that reduce the cost of road projects. “This is the most responsible transportation plan that I have seen in my 25 years in Olympia,” Sheldon said. “We finish what we started and we maintain what we already have. You’ll notice the difference when we finally finish widening I-5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, when we finally fix the Lynch Road intersection on Highway 101, and we finally build the Belfair bypass on Highway 3.”
Meanwhile, a $3.9 billion capital budget will help defray costs for sewer and wastewater projects in Belfair and Shelton, pay for renovation of the Shelton Senior Center, build a new dormitory for the Washington Youth Academy in Bremerton, and purchase land for Mason County parks and preserves.
“One of the most important things we did was to resist pressure from the state’s urban areas for major tax increases,” Sheldon said. “They said we were in a crisis, and because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, they proposed taxes that would have rearranged our economy to the liking of those who live in downtown Seattle. They would have had us impose heavy taxes on industry, on service businesses and on people who sell prosperous businesses or large plots of land. Outside Seattle this would have hurt.
“But there was no crisis. We had more than enough money to do everything we needed to do. This was truly a victory for the rest of Washington.”