March 25, 2013
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Week ten of the 2013 session is behind us and yesterday marked the two-thirds point of the 105-day session. Last week saw a major piece of the budget puzzle come into place with Wednesday’s revenue forecast. We learned that the state’s economy is continuing to recover, and tax receipts are anticipated to grow steadily through the next four years. It was welcome news that underscored the need – and ability – to craft a budget for without raising taxes.
On the local front, we also received some important news last week. As you have likely heard, Walla Walla Community College was named the top two-year school in the nation by the Aspen Institute. That’s quite an honor and I couldn’t be more excited for the students and faculty of the school. In addition to highlighting their achievement in this edition of the Eastsider, I’m also going to outline the plan our bipartisan Senate governing coalition released last week for increasing the state’s investment in higher education and making sure that excellent institutions like WWCC remain attainable for all our state’s students.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. You can email me anytime or call me in Olympia at (360) 786-7630. I represent you most accurately when I receive your direct feedback, so please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have questions or concerns, or if I can be of assistance to you and your family in any way.
Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve you in the state Senate.
Sen. Mike Hewitt
State revenue forecast – no bad news is good news
Last Wednesday the Legislature received an important piece of the budget puzzle – the quarterly revenue forecast. Every three months the state Economic & Revenue Forecast Council releases its projection of how much money the state will receive in taxes in the near future. Revenue projections from last week’s forecast will serve as the baseline for the upcoming two-year budget cycle, which begins July 1 of this year and runs through June 30 of 2015.
Lawmakers had been bracing for bad news, expecting to hear that revenues to the state had decreased as a result of payroll tax increases and budget cuts at the federal level. Instead we learned our state’s economy is continuing to recover and tax receipts are expected to stay on course with previous projections. Revenue to the state is anticipated to grow at a rate of about 6.6 percent in the next two year budget cycle, totaling $32.5 billion, which is more than at any time in our state’s history.
The chart below details recent and anticipated future revenue to the state. As you’ll note, revenue has been increasing steadily since the 2009-11 two-year budget cycle, a trend which is expected to continue through into the future.
A balanced budget – without new taxes
What does the stable revenue forecast mean for the upcoming budget? To me, it underscores the Legislature’s ability – and need – of balancing the budget without new taxes. While the economy is recovering, it remains volatile and businesses and families are not in a position to shoulder more of the burden. If we focus on what are the true priorities of our state, I am confident we’ll be able to craft a budget within existing revenue.
Within the next five to ten days the Senate will release its budget. Shortly thereafter, it’s expected that the House will release a separate budget proposal. The governor will then follow suit with a “priorities document,” which is intended as a sort of budget framework, but will not contain line-item details. Both of those plans will likely rely on new taxes. Once everything is on the table, it will be up to those who support new taxes to make their case for why it’s necessary at a time our state is receiving more revenue than any time in history.
Around the 16th District: WWCC is #1!
Last Tuesday it was announced that Walla Walla Community College was named the national Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The award – given annually to a school with outstanding academic and workforce outcomes – comes with a $400,000 prize and couldn’t have been bestowed on a more deserving institution.
The Aspen Institute cited a few rationales giving WWCC the award. First, the foresight displayed in focusing resources on programs that help prepare students for marketable careers in fields such as health care, viticulture and wind energy. And second, the hard work of faculty in building a culture where students are supported and expected to excel.Congratulations to the faculty, students and community that makes up WWCC on this exceptional achievement!
Senate coalition higher education funding plan – “10-3-50”
While we’re on the subject of higher education, I also want to share that the bipartisan coalition governing the Senate unveiled our funding plan for the state’s colleges and universities last week. The “10-3-50” plan contained in Senate Bill 5883 was introduced with the goal of reversing the recent trend of shortchanging our state’s higher education system. Here’s a summary of the plan:
- 10 percent increase in state funding for higher education, raising funding by $270 million to $3 billion
- 3 percent tuition reduction at all state institutions for the next two years
- Create a new $50 million fund for science, technology, engineering and math degrees, with funds awarded to institutions on a competitive basis
- Expand the state need grant by 7 percent to serve an additional 4,600 students
Higher education has seen steep reductions in state funding in recent years, with cuts of more than 40 percent to four-year universities since 2007. Those reductions have been backfilled by tuition increases of more than 100 percent at some schools. More funding has been added to the state need grant, which provides tuition assistance to low-income families, but many middle-class families in particular have found it difficult to foot the bill for post-secondary education.
I co-sponsored this plan because I feel it’s important that we put higher education at the forefront of budget conversations again. The fact is that post-secondary education is no longer optional – a college degree is required for most of today’s careers. By making these investments, we’ll be driving down the cost of college and helping ensure that higher education is attainable for students and families.