Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been a rollercoaster of a legislative session, with successes and disappointments along the way. I appreciated your emails, phone calls, letters and personal visits throughout the 105-day session and had them in mind with every vote I took on your behalf. We finished the session just after 10 p.m. Sunday, April 23. It's an honor to serve and represent you, and I will continue doing so even through the interim.
It's good, however, to be back home in Pomeroy, where I have spent the last couple of days on the tractor on our farm helping my husband with spring work. The views are spectacular up here on a clear day, as I can see the stadium lights at Washington State University in Pullman to the north, Craig Mountain above Lake Waha to the east, and even Mount Rainier to the west. It reminds me of what beautiful country we live in and why we work hard in Olympia to preserve our rural lifestyle.
I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the 2023 session and provide this update.
Final two-year budgets pass
Washington state has three budgets: operating, transportation and capital. Each funds specific operations and projects for a two-year cycle, that begins July 1. This year, Democrats and Republicans came together to craft and pass bipartisan transportation and capital budgets.
The transportation budget pays for transportation activities, such as designing and maintaining roads, and public transit. There's an enormous difference when we work together in a bipartisan manner. Last year, Republicans were shut out of the transportation budget and local projects were delayed while Puget Sound ferries got the lion's share of funding.
This year, the bipartisan budget restored funding for the North-South Freeway project in Spokane.
In the 9th District, just over $77 million is appropriated for projects in the coming biennium. This includes nearly $55 million for railroad track improvements to the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad, the Connell Rail interchange, and the PV Hooper track. These tracks help to transport grain from farm to market. It's taken decades to restore these tracks and it will be very valuable for our agricultural industry.
This year's budget also restored money for passing lanes on U.S. 195 and on SR 26 from Dusty to Colfax. These lanes are critical for the safety our Washington State University students who travel back and forth across the state.
The capital budget is what we call the “bricks and mortar” budget, because it pays for buildings, parks, infrastructure improvements and repair projects.
As a member of the House Capital Committee, I am pleased that from the statewide $8.9 billion capital budget, the 9th District will be receiving just over $261 million for local projects, including:
- $32.8 million for Odessa Ground Water Replacement Project: Moving 19,000 acres of deep-well irrigated land to surface water delivery systems from the Columbia Basin Project water supply, saving municipal water for the communities experiencing severe shortages.
- $1.03 million for the Colfax swimming pool.
- $350,000 for ball parks in Pomeroy.
- $180,000 for the Latah Water Tower and municipal water supply.
- $98,000 for East Washington Ag Museum in Pomeroy.
- $48,000 for the Visitor's Information Center Planning for the Dishman Hills Community Forest in Spokane.
To view these and our other 9th District capital budget projects, go to this link, make sure the version is the “As Passed Legislature (04/22/2203),” choose the 9th Legislative District from the drop-down menu, and click the “View Report” button.
While I'm pleased that both parties worked together to create bipartisan capital and transportation budgets, it was disappointing Republicans were completely shut out of building a new two-year state operating budget. Even though I serve on the House Appropriations Committee, the majority party did not share final operating budget information with us until the day before we voted on the 1,404-page bill.
The final 2023-25 operating budget spends $69.77 billion. We've seen enormous growth over the past 30 years in the state operating budget, but especially in the last 10 years. For the first two decades from the 90s into the 2000s, we saw an average increase in the budget of about $8 billion for each of the decades. Then our spending growth exploded. The increase from 2013 to 2023 was nearly $30 billion. These were years in which our state was still recovering from the 2008 recession, and yet, spending skyrocketed. As you can see in the chart above, spending in the state operating budget has more than doubled in the past 10 years and has even risen above inflation. How many people do you know have been able to double their own budgets in the past 10 years?
While this budget doesn't contain any new broad-based tax increases, the majority party has increased numerous taxes since 2019 (see the details here) to support this additional spending. Additionally, Democrats wrote into this budget anticipated revenue from the capital gains tax, even though the state Supreme Court had not yet decided whether it was constitutional. It later did declare the tax valid. Plus, it relies on cap-and-trade revenue that should have been exempted from aviation, agriculture and marine fuel. Rep. Joe Schmick and I tried to get a fuel exemption rebate, both through legislation and then through an amendment. Democrats rejected those efforts. (Watch my speech on the House floor on the amendment.)
The budget leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer's recommended target of 10%.
House Republicans proposed sales tax relief, property tax relief and expanding the Working Families Tax Credit. This budget had plenty of revenue to provide tax relief for our citizens struggling in this inflation-driven economy. Unfortunately, none of these measures received support from the majority party. I voted no, along with my House Republican colleagues, because we know this could have been a better budget. Nevertheless, it passed along party lines, 58-40.
Legislature approves Dye's wildfire aviation suppression funding bill
House Bill 1498 is sitting on the governor's desk awaiting his signature. This is a measure I have worked on for seven years.
With the help of Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a pilot, and a senior member of the State Legislative Wildfire Caucus, and state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, we were able to get this legislation over the finish line this year and approved by the Legislature.
The bill will give local fire districts the ability to be reimbursed by the state when they call in helicopters and airplanes to attack and douse a fire when it initially breaks out. Minutes count when a fire breaks out. Waiting for the State Fire Marshall to authorize aerial suppression can take hours — precious time in which a little fire can grow into a massive inferno, destroying everything in its path. If local fire districts can immediately begin using air support to attack a fire, it could be extinguished much quicker, prevent the destruction of timber and range land, protect our air quality, and save the state millions of dollars.
The concept for this bill was brought to me by Asotin County Fire District Chief Noel Hardin. In a statement after the passage of this bill, Hardin said, “House Bill 1498 is truly a win-win for the state and fire districts. Ultimately, with the passing of 1498, we will now be provided with funding to help mitigate and keep fires small and the need for mobilization. We will also see less damage to private, state and federal lands we protect, and most importantly, it will be safer for firefighters and the citizens we are charged to protect.“
We eagerly anticipate the bill signing.
- Read my press release
- Watch my floor speech
- Read my opinion-editorial
- Listen to my Capitol Report radio program
Republicans highly successful in House Environment and Energy Committee
As ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee, I'm pleased to report Republicans had one of the most successful years in recent history passing legislation and making changes to bills through amendments. We were able to reach bipartisan agreement on several issues related to climate change. Here are a few examples:
- We passed Senate Bill 5447 to provide significant incentives to develop in-state production of sustainable aviation fuel—that is, aviation fuel blended with renewable feedstocks that lower the carbon dioxide emissions of jet aircraft.
- To help decarbonize transportation, both parties supported House Bill 1236 to provide public transportation agencies the ability to manufacture, distribute, and sell green electrolytic and renewable hydrogen fuel.
- Democrats accepted a Republican floor amendment on House Bill 1170 that aimed to improve performance measurement of state's new climate resilience strategy and ensure equal emphasis on the climate risks across geographic regions of the state.
- The siting of expansive utility-scale solar and wind farms in Eastern Washington has been complicated by local concerns about intensive land use and viewshed impacts and tax revenue impacts. Solar and wind power equipment are exempted from state and local sales tax, and the property tax collected diminishes as the equipment taxed depreciates in value. Democrats accepted our proposal through House Bill 1216 for a study of how to get appropriate financial resources to the rural counties that are being asked to site thousands of acres of industrial-scale power.
- There was broad bipartisan support for House Bill 1173 to require utility-scale windfarms to install newly available technology that turns off red flashing lights at night when no aircraft are in the vicinity, and House Bill 1117 to extend an annual meeting of utility energy leaders to assess our grid reliability.
The new chair of the committee, Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, recently joined with me to write an opinion-editorial that appeared on Earth Day in the Spokesman-Review. We discussed our bipartisan work together. I invite you to read that article here.
Disappointments, there were a few. . .
As the Rolling Stones' song goes, “You can't always get what you want.” There were a few disappointments of the 2023 session. However, that just means we have more work to do next year. Here are some examples:
- House Bill 1270 – Would have established the Washington State Commission on Boys and Men. This legislation I sponsored attracted a lot of attention, but House Democrats refused to even allow a hearing on the bill. I'm hopeful we can move this measure forward next year. You can learn more about this groundbreaking legislation from my news release, opinion editorial, video and radio interview.
- House Bill 1543 – Would have studied implementing a wild horse inmate training program at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center in Connell. The program would be fashioned after a successful program at the state prison in Florence, Arizona, which I toured in 2019. The bill passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. For a short time in one of the operating budget proposals, I was able to get funding for the study. But that too was stripped out of the final budget. I will try again next year.
- No Blake fix. House Democrats refused to listen to cities, counties and constituents urging the state's drug possession law get fixed in a manner that would hold people accountable for their drug addiction and get them treatment. A last-minute bill by House Democrats couldn't even get enough support from their own members — 15 voted against it. There may be a possibility of a special session before July 1 if all four caucuses can reach an agreement.
- Police pursuit. The bill sent to the governor still has issues. It continues to limit police pursuits of criminals and does not allow police to go after stolen vehicles. More work needs to be done to untie our law enforcement officers' hands.
- We were unable to stop the long-term care program and its payroll tax, that will come out of your working paychecks, beginning July 1.
I work for you throughout the year!
I may be out on the tractor this summer. But don't let that stop you from calling my office with your questions, comments, or concerns about state government and legislation. I work for you throughout the year! My legislative assistant, Camille Nelson, is ready to take your calls and answer your questions. I'm always glad to meet with you through appointments. And I will be traveling throughout the district, attending events and meeting with citizens. I look forward to talking to you, too!
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!