Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are in week 13 of our 15-week session. I look forward to finishing on time and coming home to the beautiful 9th District. In Legislative news, both the House and Senate have proposed their 2017-19 operating budgets. These budgets are nearly identical in the appropriated amounts; however, the major differences are in the details.
Senate plan takes steps to close education-funding gap
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) recently passed their proposed 2017-19 operating budget. Of the $43 billion in proposed spending, education investments would account for over 50 percent of the budget, the highest percentage since 1983. This plan addresses fairness in school funding. It includes a statewide property tax system that is equitable and fair. The general idea is to reduce inequities in how school districts are able to raise money. This change will equalize local property tax levy rates and spread the tax burden for schools across the state. Because a 'levy swap' would result in property-rich districts paying more than property-poor districts, rates would decrease for our local communities.
House passes unfunded spending plan
In contract, the House Democrats proposed a spending plan of $45 billion. While the funding for schools between the House and Senate budgets are within $600,000 of each other, the House version does not address the need for levy equalization. Although the plan includes additional compensation for teachers, those increases are not accompanied by the levy reform needed to protect the state from future litigation.
Public lands exempt from property taxes
In another insult to rural school districts, the House Democrats zero out the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) for counties that have substantial acres of land owned by state agencies and are no longer on the local property tax rolls. Additional spending in the House Democrat budget also includes a 17 percent (in 2017-19), and 15 percent (in 2019-21), increase in the size of government over the next four years. Our state government will grow a whopping $20 billion, from $31 billion in 2011 to the proposed $51 billion by 2021. Hardworking taxpayers would foot the bill for this massive increase in spending.
Funding cut for state fairs
In spite of the increased spending, the House Democrat budget eliminates funding for state fairs. An amendment to restore this funding failed on a party-line vote. You can read more about my fight to keep this integral funding here, and listen to my radio interview with the Washington Ag Network here.
The House Democrats plan includes tax increases of $3 billion in 2017-19, and $5 billion in 2019-21. That's an $8 billion increase in taxes over the next four years. And yet, House Democrats couldn't find $4 million in their proposal to keep our state fairs thriving.
For a comparison of the two budgets, click here.
Hirst decision | What's going on?
In a recent live telephone town hall, hosted by Rep. Joe Schmick and me, we heard from community members who are deeply concerned about the impacts of the 2016 Hirst decision. The Supreme Court's ruling puts responsibility on counties and individual landowners to determine whether drilling a well on their property could have a negative impact on water available for fish in the state's streams and rivers. The Hirst decision has reduced the value of rural property. It has also made it nearly impossible for landowners to build on their land without incurring extremely expensive permits. This process is one that many counties are ill-equipped to handle.
Senator Judy Warnick, of Moses Lake, sponsored a fix for Hirst. SB 5239 would essentially take us back to days pre-Hirst, and put the onus back on the Department of Ecology. After passing the Senate with a 28-21 vote, it failed to clear the Democrat-led House Agriculture Committee.
Septic systems impacted by the Hirst decision and bills seeking relief have failed to make it out of the House Environment Committee.
Environmentalist's no-show on hearing revealing raw sewage dumps in Puget Sound
Environmental groups have been strangely silent regarding the 1.2 billion gallons of raw sewage that has been flowing, uninterrupted, into Puget Sound. On Feb. 9, there was a catastrophic failure of the pumps at the King County West Point Treatment Plant. During a public hearing on the issue, authorities revealed the sewage will continue to flow until repairs can be made to the sludge-filled pumps and electrical systems. The hearing also disclosed that raw sewage discharges occur regularly in the Seattle sewer system during rainstorms because the treatment plant isn't designed to handle the extra flow from the rain runoff. Oyster harvest and beaches have reopened in an effort to calm the public despite the continued discharges of sewage into the Sound.
An amendment offered by House Republican Rep. Vincent Buys, of Lynden, would have required a moratorium of state employee travel to Seattle. The basis for this amendment stemmed from a nearly identical incident that took place last year in Victoria, BC, when a raw sewage spill created a major public health hazard. House Democrats proposed a moratorium of state employee travel to Victoria, BC, until there was no longer a health risk. Rep. Buys' amendment failed on a party-line vote.
Stay in touch with me!
As always, I thank you for taking time to read my update. Please feel free to share my email updates with your family, friends and neighbors, and encourage them to subscribe. They can do so by clicking here. I recommend that you listen to my audio updates from Olympia. You can do so by clicking here.
I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve for a second term as your state representative in the 9th District.