A budget that prioritizes veterans, students and taxpayers
By Senator Jan Angel
As I reflect on the work we completed during this year’s legislative session, I can’t help but think back to my first year in the state Legislature in 2009 when we entered the session with a budget deficit of nearly $6 billion hanging over our heads. Surprisingly, we adjourned on time that year, but the budget saddled citizens with 36 new or increased fees, ranging from college-tuition increases to new state-parks fees and document-recording fees.
Fast forward to 2014. We recently completed our work in Olympia on time, for the first time since 2009, and I’m proud to say that in contrast to my first legislative session, we passed a budget that requires no tax increases. It received unprecedented bipartisan support and preserves the balance in the two-year operating budget adopted in 2013.
At a time when Washington is still experiencing a sluggish economy and chronic unemployment, it was important to me that I made decisions in support of small businesses and job seekers. Holding the line against tax increases will allow job creators a better chance to grow, innovate and flourish.
At the same time, the revised budget grows our investment in education by devoting an additional $58 million toward the McCleary court ruling for K-12 education, which in turn builds upon last year’s $1-billion McCleary investment. We also allocated about $42 million more to higher education, enough to maintain the freeze on college-tuition rates for 2014-15.
The 26th Legislative District is home to thousands of active and retired military members and families, so I was glad to see that despite our “short” 60 days in Olympia we prioritized veterans and passed several new laws to support, protect and honor them as thanks for their service to our state and country. In addition to protecting the college-tuition freeze, the Legislature unanimously approved several measures to help veterans obtain a post-secondary education more quickly and affordably.
We removed the one-year waiting period for military veterans to qualify for in-state tuition rates – a long-overdue right for the servicemen and servicewomen who call Washington home. We also approved a measure to award academic credit for military training so that veterans who are transitioning out of the military may build upon the specific skills and experiences they gained while serving.
To help defend the legal rights of veterans, particularly elderly vets, a new law was passed to protect against “pension poaching.” It increases enforcement against scammers who rob vets of hard-earned benefits.
There is still much work to be done – for our veterans, employers, job seekers, students and our state’s most vulnerable – but I think it’s important to celebrate the victories when we can. Just look at how far we’ve come in five short years!
Despite the fact that several good bills didn’t pass, I am pleased with the work that was completed for the people of this state, especially the veterans who call Washington and the 26th District home. I look forward to continue building upon the foundation of strong, bipartisan, sustainable and responsible practices we’ve established in the Senate.