Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We're a little more than a month away from the start of the 2018 legislative session. As the holidays approach and many of you begin to spend more time with family and friends, I wanted to provide a brief preview of the upcoming legislative session.
But before we look ahead to 2018, let's review what happened at the end of the 2017 session.
As many of you know, the 2017 session fizzled out on day 193 without a Hirst solution or a capital budget. This means some construction projects throughout the state remain in limbo and rural communities throughout the state are still feeling the devastating effects of the court ruling. A Hirst fix and a capital budget are equally important to our communities. That's why it would be unfair to authorize the state to build while property owners still can't obtain permits to build on their own land. Bottom line: if Seattle developers can drill a well in rural Washington to pump water back to Seattle, the people in rural Washington living on that very land should be able to drill a well, too.
Negotiations on a Hirst fix have been ongoing since August, but a true, comprehensive fix has yet to prevail. In two weeks, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, on which I serve as the ranking Republican, will be meeting to review proposal(s) to address Hirst. It's our understandng language supported by the governor's office will be discussed during the meeting, but that new proposal has yet to be released. If it's anything like his previous proposal, it'll be nothing more than a step backwards for rural communities. My hope is lawmakers can agree to move back to the agreement I believe we reached in the summer and finally implement a real solution for property owners.
The committee meeting has yet to be finalized, but you can check this link in the following weeks for the meeting time and agenda.
As far as the capital budget goes, the House already passed a capital budget proposal once, and we just need to get that finalized in 2018.
The Legislature was able to reach an agreement on a new, two-year operating budget by the end of June. While the budget makes a number of important investments in our K-12 education system, mental health, and services for the vulnerable, I ultimately had to vote “no.” Under this budget, state spending will increase 14 percent compared to the 2015-17 biennium, and another 14 percent in 2019-21. That's nearly a 30 percent increase over four years. This level of spending, which is largely dependent on one-time revenue sources and other gimmicks, is unsustainable.
The Legislature also passed an education-funding plan to satisfy the McCleary ruling. HB 2242 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It fully funds K-12 education and addresses our state's overreliance on local levies to pay for education. The Washington State Supreme Court had something to say about the Legislature's education-funding plan recently: while the court essentially endorsed HB 2242 as being constitutionally compliant, they took issue with the fact full implementation isn't set to occur until the 2019-20 school year. The statutory and court-ordered deadline for fully funding basic education is Sept.1, 2018, and it's estimated that another $1 billion would be needed to expedite full implementation for the 2018-19 school year.
Now let's jump ahead to 2018.
As a result of the November elections, both chambers in the state Legislature will be controlled by Democrat majorities. It's unclear how this shift in power will affect policy development in 2018, but based off of past priorities, one thing you can expect to see are reinvigorated conversations about new and increased taxes — namely a carbon tax and a capital gains income tax. Whether or not these conversations will result in viable bills has yet to be seen. Thankfully, King County Superior Court ruled Seattle's income tax illegal last week, further confirming state law, which reads “a county, city, or city-county shall not levy a tax on net income.” Washington state voters have rejected a statewide income tax seven times since the state Supreme Court overturned Initiative 69 in 1933, the latest being in 2010 when the proposed income tax measured failed in all 39 counties with a 64 percent “no” vote. Proponents of the city's income tax could appeal and the issue could be taken up by the state Supreme Court.
Washington families should not continue to be burdened by onerous tax increases. The Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its quarterly state revenue forecast last week. The General Fund-State (GF-S) revenue forecast has been increased by $304 million for the 2017-19 budget cycle and by $186 million for the 2019-21 budget cycle. The past several forecasts have demonstrated steady, healthy economic growth in our state, further proving to me we don't need to raise taxes on hardworking taxpayers.
As lawmakers gear up for 2018, I hope you will reach out to me with your thoughts on the 2018 session and your ideas for improving state government. You can call me at (360) 786-7854 or email me at Vincent.Buys@leg.wa.gov. If your travels bring you south to Olympia between Jan. 8 and March 8, be sure to contact my legislative assistant, Amanda, to schedule a time for us to meet.
Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas and happy new year!