Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After marathon sessions where we worked for as many as 21 consecutive hours on the House floor, the 105-day legislative session ended just before midnight, April 28. Most disappointing is that majority Democrats used the last three days of the session to increase taxes by more than $5.5 billion over the next four years. It was an expensive weekend for taxpayers!
In this email update, I provide an overview of the state operating budget, the tax increases imposed against Washingtonians, our fight against removal of the Snake River dams, broadband expansion, and what happened with my legislation on the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project and wildfire suppression.
The makeup of this year's Legislature did not serve Eastern Washington well
In November, Republicans in the House and Senate lost legislative seats on the west side of the state to liberal Democrats who share a Seattle-based ideology of social programs, additional regulations, higher taxes, and carrying forward the governor's “green agenda.” These larger majorities in both the House and the Senate emboldened Democrats, and with the support of a Democratic governor, they proceeded to ramrod policies through the Legislature that are in the interest of Seattle, but not the rest of the state.
In a recent article to the East Washingtonian in Pomeroy, I wrote about the socialism policies my Republican colleagues and I were up against. I invite you to read it here to understand our challenges.
Operating budget contains record spending
The current two-year operating budget, which expires June 30, spends about $44.7 billion. When we entered the 2019 legislative session on Jan. 14, Washington was enjoying historical revenue growth. We had a $2.8 billion surplus. With this new revenue, we could have easily funded the priorities of government without tax increases. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for majority Democrats, who in the final three days of the 105-day session, decided to satisfy their Seattle-based supporters with enormous increases in taxes and spending.
Most troubling was the lack of transparency. Republicans were shut out of the budget writing process as House and Senate Democrats met behind closed doors. We got our first glimpse of the 808-page budget bill on Saturday, April 27 — day 104 of the 105 day session — just one day before we were to vote on it. The public also didn't get to see it until Saturday. The process was kept so secret that bills necessary to implement the budget were introduced with only a title, without any of the language needed to enact the bill (known as title-only bills). Language was later added without public input or review.
The enacted 2019-21 operating budget spends $52.5 billion. That's an increase of $7.8 billion (17.5 percent) over the 2017-19 budget. Even more concerning, the proposal commits every last dollar, ensuring that any economic downturn will require painful cuts. Under this budget, state spending will have increased by $22 billion (70 percent) since 2013. I voted no because I know this level of growth is not responsible and not sustainable.
Budget includes lower Snake River Dam removal study
When the original House Democratic operating budget proposal was released, Rep. Joe Schmick and I celebrated the fact that it did not contain the $750,000 requested by Gov. Inslee to study removal of the lower Snake River dams. Unfortunately, 43 House and Senate Democrats, all from the west side of the Cascades, also noticed and signed a letter to budget writers asking for the funding “to address the urgent plight of our critically endangered Southern Resident orcas.”
Quite frankly, not one of those legislators who signed that letter understand the importance of those dams to Eastern Washington and the fact that not a shred of scientific data exists of proof that salmon stock would increase if those dams were breached. Please read the opinion editorial I co-wrote with Rep. Schmick: “Removing Snake River dams is the wrong answer to orca survival.”
Unfortunately, the final budget appropriates $750,000 for the removal study. Rep. Schmick and I are prepared to do all we can to fight these misguided Snake River dam opponents.
Majority Democrats substantially raise taxes to pay for their spending spree
To support this budget, majority Democrats in the House and Senate spent an entire weekend approving massive tax increases. I voted against all of these bills.
I am particularly concerned these tax increases will strike at the heart of our rural areas. For example, there's a higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas. More than 90,000 employers will be impacted by a new surcharge on business and occupation (B&O) taxes, which will raise costs for consumers. A graduated real estate excise tax will restrict housing supply, increase rents and harm our economy. There's also a new payroll tax every employee will have to pay to create a state long-term care program. They also removed the levy lid put into place by the McCleary education funding fix — and this will result in higher property taxes.
My Republican colleagues in the House and Senate fought hard against these tax increases. In fact, we felt this should have been a year in which the Legislature provided tax relief. Unfortunately, we, and the taxpayers of the state, were steamrolled by these large Seattle-area Democratic majorities.
Wins and losses
True success in the state Legislature cannot be adequately measured by the number of bills passed. This year, there were many bills that, if passed, would have been extremely detrimental to the people of our state. My Republican colleagues and I fought against those measures and to protect our citizens. While some harmful policies did slip through, we stopped a number of bad bills, including:
- House Bill 1110 would have created a new low carbon fuel standard that would have added to the price of gas and goods.
- House Bill 1491 would have restricted scheduling options for employees and employers, which would have hurt various industries.
- House Bill 1515 would have forced many individual contractors, such as hairdressers, to work as employees, as opposed to being their own boss.
- House Bill 2156 would have created a new capital gains income tax.
- Senate Bill 5323 would have restricted single-use plastic carryout bags by retail establishments.
I am disappointed with the passage of House Bill 1112, a measure introduced by a Burien lawmaker, that creates a new program to regulate and reduce hydrofluorocarbons, which are typically found in refrigerants. In Eastern Washington, where thousands of jobs rely on the frozen food industry and wine storage, all of which depend on refrigeration, I'm very concerned this could deeply impact these jobs.
Governor's rural broadband bill moves forward; Columbia Basin water bill and wildfire suppression measure will wait until next year
While I had several goals for the 2019 session, three issues were particularly important to me and the people I represent across the 9th District: broadband expansion, bringing more water to the Columbia Basin, and empowering local fire departments to engage in early suppression of brush fires before they grow into wildfires.
I introduced House Bill 1606 to build on last year's legislation I authored, House Bill 2664, that allowed the local port districts to work with the Department of Commerce's Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) for grants and loan funding for broadband infrastructure development. Gov. Inslee submitted request legislation, House Bill 1498 / Senate Bill 5511, which sought a different route for broadband expansion, including grants through the state's Public Works Board and the creation of the Governor's Statewide Broadband Office to administer the program. You can read the differences between my proposal and the governor's in my opinion editorial here.
In the end, the governor's Senate bill won advancement. Although I would have done things differently through my legislation, I supported the governor's bill because it will provide broadband expansion that is needed as an economic springboard in all of our communities, no matter how remote. Read my press release here.
Finishing the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project
I've been to the White House four times in the past year to make the case for Columbia Basin water infrastructure, and I'm scheduled to go back again this month.
The original Columbia Basin Irrigation Project called for canals to irrigate the full 1,100,000 acres in the plateau with water from Banks Lake, but that expansion waned in the 1960s, and just over half of the project was completed. Deep water wells have sustained the other unfinished half, but those wells are running dry. So that's why I have been making the case to finish the remainder of the federal project. I've met with key officials in President Trump's cabinet and the president himself has signed my map (see photo above) as an indicator of his support.
Sen. Jim Honeyford and I each introduced legislation seeking the bonding authority of $500 million to show the federal government our commitment and provide the state's share of the cost to get the project underway. Unfortunately, we were unable to get that commitment during this legislative session. But I am not giving up. Generations of eastern Columbia Basin families are at stake. We must finish this critical project!
Dousing fires while they're small would provide big savings to the state, property owners
Common sense says when a fire is small and you have the equipment to put it out quickly, that's the best time to do so. Authorities shouldn't be wasting time on the phone with state bureaucrats, negotiating who should put it out while it grows into a massive wildfire. Unfortunately, common sense is sometimes lacking in Olympia — and it's costly for all. That's why I introduced House Bill 1958, a bill that would allow our local fire departments to use air support to immediately suppress a fire and be reimbursed by the state through a new premobilization aviation assistance program.
You'd think this would be a simple bill to pass, but it has taken a lot of negotiation with the Department of Natural Resources, the state Fire Marshall's office and other interested parties. They've all come on board, and the measure passed the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. However, I've yet to get this bill passed through the House Appropriations Committee. I plan to work with the Appropriations chair during this fire season to impress upon him the importance of premobilization and early suppression. Hopefully, it will pass next year.
I work for you throughout the year
The best feeling in the world is knowing that I've been able to help a constituent — whether it is assisting that person through the labyrinth of state agencies or solving a problem with or without legislation. It is such an honor to work for you. I am humbled by your confidence in me. Although the legislative session has ended, I work for you throughout the year. If you ever have a problem, question or suggestion about state government, our state laws or legislation, please email me or call my office in Olympia. My contact information is below. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!