Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the 2016 general election behind us, I'm honored to continue serving as your voice in the state House of Representatives. In my last update to you in April, I explained that until December, I would be unable to communicate with you using these e-newsletters due to state ethics rules. That “freeze” on communications has since lifted, and I'm now free to send you updates from the Legislature.
A number of pressing issues came to light this interim, chief among them being the Hirst Decision. In October, the state Supreme Court determined Whatcom County's comprehensive plan fails to provide for protection of water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act (GMA). This placed the county's exemption of private wells at risk even though they have complied with the Department of Ecology rule (the “Nooksack Rule”) allowing permit-exempt wells so long as fewer than 5,000 gallons of water is taken per day. It's estimated that in 2015, 20 percent of Whatcom County residents were served by non-public or private water systems.
Make no mistake – this decision could reach far beyond Whatcom County. The other 28 counties required to draft comprehensive plans and submit them to the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) could easily be affected as well. In fact, Spokane and Yakima counties have already put plans into motion to prevent action being taken against the counties in light of the Court's ruling.
The decision will, no doubt, disproportionately affect rural communities, potentially requiring builders to seek costly hydrogeological studies to prove compliance with the GMA, thereby discouraging development and limiting affordable housing options.
As the current ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and of course as a resident of Whatcom County, I will be pursuing remedies that take into consideration the relinquishment standard and the physical availability of water, while still providing for increased opportunities for conservation. It's time lawmakers come to the table and hash out a solution before more counties and property owners become subject to erroneous anti-growth policies.
Yesterday, lawmakers of both the House Agriculture and Natural Resources and Local Government committees met for a work session on the Hirst Decision to hear from stakeholders on the matter. Tyler Schroeder, deputy executive of Whatcom County, testified, explaining the county's emergency building moratorium passed earlier this fall, the next steps the county is considering, and the hurdles residents have faced so far since the decision. You can watch footage of that meeting here.
Looking ahead to 2017
This week, representatives were back in Olympia for committee meetings as we prepare for the 2017 legislative session to begin Jan. 9. During this “committee assembly” week, we also meet as caucuses to discuss our priorities heading into 2017. We are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions for the problems facing Washingtonians and will continue to seek legislative opportunities that will:
- provide our students with a world-class education;
- empower working families and strengthen local economies and communities; and
- protect taxpayers by holding government accountable.
With this new year comes a new budget cycle, which means legislators will be drafting a new, two-year budget. The good news is we will be entering the 2017-19 budget cycle with a 6.7 percent increase in available revenues compared to the last biennium, as revealed in the latest state revenue forecast.
K-12 education funding will likely dominate most budget-related conversations as the McCleary education funding case's 2018 deadline to fully fund basic education looms. Recent K-12 education enhancements (i.e., full funding for full-day kindergarten and K-3 class-size reductions, and implementation of pupil transportation), plus other investments and state-funded compensation increases, have resulted in a 36 percent increase in K-12 education funding over the past three biennia. While we've come far, there's still more work to do!
As the holidays approach and you spend more time with friends and family, I encourage you to stay in touch. Please don't hesitate to contact my office with any questions, policy ideas or concerns.
It's an honor representing you!