Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While the first two 30-day special sessions were a bit anticlimactic, the last few weeks of the third special session have been busy. Education negotiators and budget writers worked late into the night and early morning at the end of June to arrive at a compromise budget that fully funds education and meets all of our McCleary obligations.
I know some of you are as frustrated as I have been at the slow pace of negotiations. You don't elect legislators to work into July. But you also don't elect us to cave in and abandon our principles and priorities at the first sign of trouble. The simple fact of the three special sessions is this: we could have been done in the constitutionally-allotted 105 days if my House and Senate Republican colleagues and I would have just agreed to an $8 BILLION tax increase.
That is it in a nutshell. There were intricacies to negotiate and minute details to decide, but the reality is that the other side proposed a capital gains income tax, a carbon tax, and a B&O tax increase on service businesses amounting to $8 billion over the next four years. This is on top of the nearly $3 billion in new tax dollars the state is expected to take in this next biennium due to increased economic activity in our state. I don't believe the citizens of our state, especially the hardworking families in northeast Washington, can afford such a hit to their wallets.
In the end, House and Senate Republican budget writers negotiated with their Democrat counterparts to produce what was probably the best budget possible with such an evenly divided Legislature. Each legislator can probably point to a handful of things they like about this budget and a handful of things they hate.
I voted against the budget because of the potential increase in property taxes for some in our district. I've heard from many of you that you cannot afford to pay the government more in taxes. You've told me how you have to live within your means and that you think state government should do the same – and I agree. We should be implementing solutions that help grow economic opportunity for our communities rather than taking more money from hardworking families.
I also don't believe a 30 percent increase in spending over the next four years is sustainable. The budget spends about $49.6 billion in the 2019-21 budget cycle. For comparison, our state spent about $31 billion in 2011-13. This is a nearly $19 billion increase in just eight years!
Both bills passed with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition; something not always seen in Olympia with such historic proposals. If you want more specific information about the compromise budget, you can find the bill, a detailed summary, agency details and other documents here or a copy of the nonpartisan committee staff summary here.
Fixing the Hirst debacle (Senate Bill 5239)
Coming up with a solution to the state Supreme Court's Hirst decision was an absolute priority coming into this session as environmentalists, anti-growth organizations and other urban special interest groups waged an all-out war against our rural landowners. The Senate passed a complete Hirst fix (Senate Bill 5239) four times while House Democrats have refused to move one piece of Hirst legislation. In fact, on June 30, an agreed-upon, bipartisan amendment was introduced in the House but Democrat leadership refused to allow it to come up for a vote.
The duplicity and hypocrisy of this situation is alarming. Much of the opposition to a Hirst fix comes from legislators representing Seattle – a fast-growing city that gets as much water as it wants from rural areas of Washington. Yet, it is residents in rural Washington who are now being denied access to water on their property because of Seattle area state lawmakers.
I am so frustrated that one party in Olympia refuses to find a Hirst solution for our rural areas. We have made it known from day one that we would not vote on a new capital budget (the state's construction budget) if a Hirst fix was not agreed to. We all want these construction projects in our district but I am not willing to sacrifice the hopes, dreams and financial investments of our rural residents for a few dollars in new construction. State government should not be the only ones allowed to build. I'm hopeful that more pressure will be put on our Democrat House and governor so they can see beyond the special interest groups and realize how their lack of compromise is hurting rural Washington residents.
Because there is no Hirst fix, your property taxes will most likely increase! Beyond the impact to actual landowners who can no longer drill a well, build their homes or finance property, there will be a very real property tax shift.
When you have land that was once worth $100,000 before the Hirst decision, but is now only worth $5,000 because there is no access to water, someone will have to make up that difference in taxable valuations at the local level. You can be assured there will be a tax shift and many, if not most, residents will see their property taxes increase. You can read an article I wrote with Rep. John Koster on the property tax shift due to Hirst here.
Transferring DNR surplus firefighting equipment
My bill (HB 2010) to help prevent homelessness in wildfire areas is already having an impact. Provisions of the bill allow the Department of Natural Resources to transfer ownership of surplus firefighting equipment to fire districts in wildfire-prone areas within counties that have a median income level below the state average. The department has begun this process. You can read more about it on their website here. Or read my press release on the bill here.
Election year restrictions
Because I'm up for election this fall, I am under the Legislature's election year restriction rules. As such, this may be the last e-newsletter I can send to you until after the election. I want you to know that it has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve and represent you in the state House of Representatives. My decade of serving you as Shelly Short's legislative assistant proved to be a great training ground and provided an easy transition into serving you directly.
Please contact me with any questions or concerns you may have, or if you'd like me to speak to your community organization, church group or civic association. It would be my pleasure to speak with you about the 2017 legislative session and the issues we faced.