Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2018 legislative session came to a close yesterday. This session had its share of highs and lows, but the good news is we adjourned on time, and accomplished much of what we collectively set out to do in the short session.
Hirst fix and a capital budget
We were sorely disappointed leaving the 2017 session without passing a comprehensive Hirst solution and a new, two-year capital (construction) budget. After overcoming some significant policy hurdles during the interim months, we were finally able to reach an agreement and pass both a Hirst fix and a biennial capital budget at the beginning of the 2018 session. The recently enacted Hirst solution — Senate Bill 6091 — restores much-needed certainty to property owners, and allows families to start building again. In Whatcom County, you can withdraw as much as 3,000 gallons per day. The bill also provides for an investment of $300 million over 15 years for projects to improve instream flows, and stream restoration and enhancement.
The 2017-19 capital budget prioritizes our schools, mental health facilities and affordable housing, as well as provides funding for a number of local infrastructure projects, including:
- $4 million for Swift Creek natural asbestos debris cleanup,
- $1.25 million for the Washington Agricultural Education Center at the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center in Lynden, and
- $4 million for the Pepin Creek Realignment.
Additionally, the 2018 supplemental budget provides $1.2 million to help complete the design and construction of public drinking water, sewer, and electrical infrastructure to extend service capability to East Blaine. This will help spur the construction of more than 1,400 housing units and 48,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial space. The budget also provides $750,000 to help Unity Care NW relocate and resize their Ferndale Health Center to better serve northwest Whatcom County, and an additional $300,000 for the Washington Agricultural Education Center — bringing its total funding to nearly $1.8 million.
No capital gains, carbon taxes
Despite efforts from the governor and the majority party to push a carbon tax and a capital gains tax, both measures failed this session. I think the fact a Legislature under one-party control couldn't accomplish tax measures they've been advocating for for years speaks volumes to just how unpopular, and how unnecessary, these taxes really are.
Bottom line: With our economy growing as steadily as it is, we don't need more taxes. Recent forecasts show revenue has increased $2.3 billion over four years — $1.2 billion for 2017-19 and $1.1 billion for 2019-21. We need to fund our priorities and return some of the money to hardworking taxpayers in the form of tax relief. Unfortunately, the property-tax relief provided in the supplemental operating budget the majority party is touting doesn't go far enough. More about that below.
Food truck bill clears the Legislature
Though I'm still waiting for the governor's signature, my House Bill 2639 will help food trucks overcome a major hurdle in their industry. The bill would allow food trucks to prepare their food onsite so long as they meet certain, necessary health requirements, instead of having to maintain a brick and mortar commissary kitchen.
I owe thanks to the Washington Food Truck Association and the many food truck owners who showed their support by coming down to Olympia to testify, calling my office, and sending emails and letters. Their contributions truly helped get this bill through the process during the short legislative session.
The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber interviewed one of the bill's supporters, Vashon's Orca Eats food truck owner Emily Wigley, about the bill. You can read the story here.
Hirst-fix bill excludes solution for the Skagit River Basin
While I was glad to provide some relief to rural property owners this session, the Hirst fix the Legislature approved in January failed to provide a solution for the Skagit River Basin.
I signed onto a bill sponsored by Representative David Taylor earlier this year that would allow the Skagit basin to operate under the agreement the county reached with the Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife and others in 1996. In 2001, Ecology adopted a regulation that conflicted with the original agreement, which further restricted water access. I don't think a state agency should be able to implement rules that conflict with an agreement that agency entered into with other entities. House Bill 2937 would fix that.
The bill didn't receive a hearing this year, but I'm committed to working over the next few months as we prepare for the upcoming legislative session next January to craft a sustainable solution.
Supplemental operating budget unsustainable, fails to provide meaningful property-tax relief
The 2018 supplemental operating budget approved by the Legislature yesterday increases state spending by $1.2 billion in 2017-19, and another $600 million in 2019-21, all amounting to a nearly 16 percent increase in spending since the 2015-17 budget was enacted. Unless you live in the affluent Puget Sound core, your family likely hasn't seen your budget grow by the same rate.
I voted against the budget. While the economy may be performing well now, we can't approve budgets based off the assumption the good times will continue. This budget increases state spending by an unsustainable rate, and relies on a budget gimmick to avoid placing money in our rainy day fund.
The budget also fails to provide meaningful property tax relief this year. Like I said above, revenue has increased $2.3 billion over the 4 years since the underlying budget was enacted in June. Despite that, we were only able to offer $390 million in property tax relief, and it won't be immediate. Rep. Luanne Van Werven and I sponsored real property tax relief that would have affected taxpayers THIS YEAR. You can learn more about it here. Sadly, our bill was never given a hearing.
House approves union dues bill without Republican votes
I and fellow House Republicans made an unprecedented move earlier this session when we unanimously declined to vote on a bill. The legislation in question was Senate Bill 6199, which would allow the Department of Social and Health Services to no longer pay individual home care provider wages and contract out to private third-parties. This would cost taxpayers $6 million more per biennium, exempt communication between the employer and the union from public disclosure, and would force family members caring for their loved ones to pay as much as $1,000 a year in union dues, putting the financial interests of one powerful union ahead of the rights of thousands of workers. You can read more about the bill in this The Seattle Times editorial, which encourages lawmakers to reject the bill, here.
The bill passed 50-0, with all 48 House Republicans excused.
It's our job as a legislative body to have thoughtful debate and discourse on the policies we are considering. With regard to this bill, House Republicans sought to expose the fact caregivers would be required to unionize and pay dues to help power a union's political operations. In fact, anytime we tried to mention the union that would benefit from this bill — SEIU — the House majority would shut down debate on the bill. So when it came to cast our votes, we declined to do so. This blatant censorship of a core legislative function was unacceptable.
Learn more by listening to this special report.
Although session has adjourned, my office and I are here to serve you 365 days a year. Please don't hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, questions, and ideas for good policy to pursue during the next legislative session. I look forward to hearing from you!
It's an honor serving you!