Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rep. Kessler announces retirement

As the 2010 special session was winding down in the early morning hours of April 13th, the good lady from the 24th District rose for a point of personal privilege. People gathered in the House wings to listen, having been informed that there would be a “special announcement” on the floor.

Still, her announcement took many by surprise. After 18 years in the House, including 12 as Majority Leader, Rep. Lynn Kessler is retiring. Many were shocked to find out that our House Majority Leader is approaching 70 years of age, which she admitted to in her farewell speech. Most of us would have never guessed it.

You could hear the emotion in her voice as she reflected on her Legislative career and recalled special memories from those 18 years. On both sides of the aisle, eyes welled up with tears. And as both Democrats and Republicans rose to speak in honor of her, it was clear that Rep. Kessler has always been viewed as a true stateswoman.

All of us in the House Democratic Caucus are going to miss the example of class and dignity that she set. Her final floor speech will be available soon on her website.

Thank you, Rep. Kessler, for 18 distinguished years of service for the people of Washington.

At long last - Sine Die 2010

The first bill passed by the House this session was also one of the last. The JOBS Act of 2010, which will go to the voters in November, will create at least 30,000 jobs for the hard-hit construction industry while making schools safer and more energy-efficient. The Senate also approved the measure this evening.

“While the economy and the resulting budget situation dominate the headlines, we also focused on the longer-term needs of our state,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp. “We spent last summer and fall building an agenda to address issues families talk about around their kitchen tables – decent-paying jobs, good schools, safe communities. We made real progress on all those fronts while continuing to find ways to trim the budget and reform the way government works.”

“We tried to meet the real needs of real people,” said Majority Leader Lynn Kessler. “Naturally, we concentrated on the budget, but we also wanted to make sure our businesses – and our people – are well-positioned to take advantage of the new jobs that will be available as we come out of this Great Recession.”

Key bills approved during the 2010 session include:

Balancing the budget
  • Reduced agency spending.
  • Suspended performance bonuses and salary increases for many state employees.
  • Extended the ban on hiring, travel, contracting, and purchases.
Putting Washington back to work
  • JOBS Act of 2010 will, if approved by voters, create at least 38,000 jobs around the state while making our public schools safer, healthier, and more energy efficient.
  • Washington Works Housing Act will put an additional 10,000 construction workers back to work building affordable housing so people like nurses, police officers, and teachers can live closer to their jobs.
  • Continued to provide incentives for industries to locate and grow in Washington, from an extension of the rural tax credit for creating jobs in areas hardest hit by unemployment to a new exemption for high-tech companies who build the next generation of data centers in our state.
Educating our kids
  • We took next step in reforming K-12 funding by setting in motion the first recommendations from the Quality Education Council, the group tasked with implementing HB 2261.
  • Restored, protected, and enhanced local levy funding by allowing school districts to calculate their levies to funding levels that existed prior to 2009 when the legislature was forced to cut education budgets.
  • Approved new strategies for turning around low-performing schools and a new evaluation system for teachers and principals designed to position Washington schools to succeed in the federal Race to the Top.
  • Provided help for thousands of low-income students to pay for college with some of the most generous financial aid programs in the nation, making Washington a leader in student access and affordability.
  • Gave assistance to community and technical colleges to help thousands of unemployed workers seeking to retrain and retool for jobs in emerging industries.
Community safety
  • Gave voters the opportunity to amend the state constitution so that judges may consider withholding bail on anyone charged with a crime punishable by the possibility of life in prison, thereby restricting release on the toughest, most dangerous criminals.
  • Required that a bail may only be granted by a judge for a person arrested and detained for a felony offense, and does away with the “booking bail” schedule.
  • Exempted the photographs and birth date information in personnel files of criminal justice employees from disclosure under the Public Records Act, except for media requests. This protects law enforcement officers and their families from threats by inmates.

Reforming government
  • Transformed the way we fund our public schools, simplifying the current complicated budgeting process and increasing transparency.
  • Reformed the way safety net services are delivered with the Disability Lifeline, which stresses quicker transitions to self-sufficiency and better utilizations of state and federal dollars.
  • Redesigned the delivery of temporary assistance to needy families with services that will help recipients getting back on their feet more quickly.
  • Eliminated, consolidated and/or streamlined numerous boards, commissions, and agency functions.
  • Improved Washington State Ferries operations by eliminating inefficiencies and changing the way labor contracts are negotiated.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The highlights of the highlights

From the press event earlier today, here's the one-page overview of the things we preserved and the things we cut in the 2010 Supplemental Operating Budget.

Here's the operating budget bill

The striking amendment is now online. Members have until 1 p.m. to place amendments on the bar for consideration.

Note: The bill is 344 pages so it might take a minute to load. You can check out the Cliff's Notes version here.

UPDATE: Important note: LEAP's budget summary is a summary of the 2010 Supplemental Operating Budget ONLY. This budget is a 'rebalancing' of the 2009-11 budget, not a separate new budget. So when certain people try to argue that we only cut $755 million while raising $757 million (as shown on page 6) it's a misleading way to describe how we've balanced the entire 2009-11 budget which includes a full $4 billion in cuts.

As we've said before, "You don't hand out medals to relay runners based on their individual times, but on their cumulative time. It's the same thing with our budget - the only numbers that really matter are the totals at the end."

Almost done

This weekend, the House and Senate reached agreement on a revenue package, largely clearing the path home toward the end of special session.

Today, the House and Senate will scramble to wrap up remaining bills, including the 2010 supplemental operating budget. As our colleagues in the other chamber note, legislators have agreed to a budget as well. There are still some logistics to work out in terms of briefing members and actually processing the paperwork, but the heavy lifting of negotiations is done.

So... we're almost there, folks. Keep the coffee coming. We need it.