Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While the pace of the first special session has been frustratingly slow, I am happy to report I have been busy spending time in both Olympia and the 18th District, working hard for you! This newsletter contains some highlights of some of the things I have been doing since I last checked in with you.
My concerns on House Democrats' new operating budget proposal
- The Washington State House of Representatives passed a new operating budget proposal, House Bill 1057 on May 6. I was joined by every House Republican in voting “no” on this proposed state spending plan. There are too many flaws in this budget that go against my core principles. The following are reasons for my opposition to the House Democrats' plan:
The operating budget proposal would sweep all of the cash out of the Public Works Trust Fund – a financial lifeline for our cities and counties. This fund provides low-interest loans for important public works infrastructure, including primary water and sewer upgrades, that otherwise would be financially impossible to build. Cities and counties repay the money, so it's a reliable revolving fund. The House Democrats who voted for this proposal turned their backs on Washougal, Camas, Ridgefield, Battle Ground, Amboy, Yacolt, and every other city in the state.
- It would spend the least amount on K-12 public education compared to other operating budget proposals. It would use an apportionment gimmick and not go far enough to meet our state's paramount duty to fully fund education;
- It would raise taxes on our hardworking citizens and employers at a time of high unemployment and fragile economic recovery;
- It would kill Southwest Washington businesses that rely on a large percentage of Portland shoppers because their sales tax exemption would go away; and
- It would continue to deny cities of their rightful portion of local liquor taxes to fund important public safety efforts.
I am strongly encouraging citizens to contact state lawmakers in opposition to the House Democrats' new operating budget proposal. The Washington State House of Representatives and Washington State Senate must pass a 2013-15 operating budget. The last day of the 30-day special session was June 11, which came and went without a deal on the budget. Governor Inslee called us immediately back into special session which began on June 12th.
I am standing firm with the Majority Coalition Caucus with their budget plan to insist on much needed changes with workers' compensation, education reform and limiting any state spending not tide to education. It's important to note the three bills the Senate Coalition is holding firm on in these final budget negotiations were among a total of 33 reform measures passed by the Senate this year that House Democratic leaders refused to advance. So much for compromise! So when you read about Governor Inslee and other Democrats complaining about the Senate being unwilling to compromise, remind them of those 33 Senate reform bills the Democrats refused to pass. According to Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, these three bills represent the most important priorities – those being jobs, education and sustainable budgeting. As your state representative, I share those priorities.
I will keep you apprised of final budget developments.
Update on Columbia River Crossing (CRC)
Last week I testified at the U.S. Coast Guard public hearing to protect upriver commerce from the flawed design of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). You can view a YouTube video of my testimony here.
Given the significant financial needs of our state, there's little support for a $3.5 billion mega-project with questionable accounting practices and $20 million of undocumented, non-allocated spending. I cannot support spending more of the people's hard-earned money on a bridge project that includes prohibitively expensive light rail that less than 3 percent of commuters will use nor will I support a design that does not meet the needs of current and future river users.
As state legislators, we must focus on maintenance and preservation of Washington's existing bridges and highways. I urged Coast Guard officials not to waste tax dollars on what is essentially a light rail project.
If you were unable to testify in person last week, the U.S. Coast Guard is accepting comment from citizens until June 20. To submit your comment online, go to http://www.regulations.gov
A few weeks ago, I made a request for public information to the CRC asking for all financial details of mitigation offers, accepted agreements and any other pertinent details between river commerce companies and the Columbia River Crossing. The CRC responded but denied my request. I am continuing to fight for transparency on this issue. If the CRC is planning to pay mitigation costs with taxpayer dollars, citizens have every right to know how much those mitigation agreements will cost.
Update on Longview's millennium bulk terminal environmental review
Most citizens are aware there are two separate proposed coal export facility projects moving through two separate environmental review processes in Washington State. The first is the “Gateway Pacific” Terminal near Bellingham and a second is the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview. On May 28, I participated in a lengthy telephone conference with Sally Toteff, Southwest Washington's Regional Director for the Department of Ecology. Here's an update on how the project in Longview is moving forward.
The former Reynolds Aluminum plant in Longview encompasses 536 acres. The property is owned by Northwest Alloys (a wholly owned subsidiary of Alcoa Inc.) and the buildings are owned by Millennium Bulk Terminals. For the past few years, a comprehensive clean-up of the contaminated site has been undertaken by Millennium and Alcoa under an agreed order with Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). The objective is to put the industrial site back into productive use, which translates into more jobs for the region. I will share with you a report on the status of this cleanup as soon as it is available. DOE anticipates the investigation report and analysis of clean up options will be available for public comment in January 2014. Last year, Millennium provided Senator Rivers and me with a comprehensive tour of the facility. After millions of dollars were spent in removal of debris and dismantling unpermitted structures left by the previous tenant, the site is vastly improved. Whether or not the proposed export facility moves forward, the environmental clean-up will proceed to completion.
Millennium Bulk Terminals is proposing to export 44 million metric tons of coal per year by adding loading capabilities at two new docks, providing rail storage to handle 8 trains and supplying a large coal storage area. The plan anticipates 615 Panamax size ships will call each year. The project conservatively estimates 1,350 temporary construction jobs followed by 135 full-time jobs to operate the coal export terminal. This is in addition to the 37 jobs currently provided by Millennium's bulk products terminal that imports the raw materials needed to support the 450 jobs at the Wenatchee smelter.
In February, 2012, Millennium submitted a letter and application to Cowlitz County for the project. This action started the environmental review process. In April, 2012, Cowlitz County asked DOE to be co-lead to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which DOE accepted in May 2012. Later that year, a negotiated agreement was reached between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DOE and Cowlitz County to address legal and technical aspects through a memorandum of understanding between the three agencies. Last November, a Request for Proposal was prepared. A consultant was selected in April, 2013, and their contract finalized in May, 2013 to prepare an EIS.
Environmental Review Process:
In Washington state, all new developments must undergo an environmental review through either an environmental checklist or a more rigorous review through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Under SEPA, after extensive environmental review, an EIS is written with a declaration of either significant or non-significant environmental impacts. Mitigation measures are also included. The EIS takes into account important aspects including a detailed project description, wetlands, transportation, habitat, shorelines, water supply, air quality and many other issues.
It's important for DOE to be involved since it will review the project from a regional and state perspective.
A series of “scoping” meetings will be announced this summer to help define the parameters of the EIS. Public comment will be accepted as to whether or not rail lines areas in Washougal, Camas, Vancouver, Felida and Ridgefield are to be included in the EIS. After scoping, a draft EIS will be prepared followed by another public comment period. Then a final EIS will be published. At that point, the actual permit process could begin. Those will include decisions on a shorelines permit, operating permits, construction permits and other permits and permissions from local, state and federal agencies.
I will continue to provide periodic updates on the Millennium facility in Longview as new developments occur. Citizens may sign up for ListServ email updates on both the Gateway facility in Bellingham or the Millennium facility in Longview.
For Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/geographic/millennium/index.html
For Gateway Pacific Terminal-Bellingham: http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/
Education choice for families:
On May 21, I introduced legislation to open up educational opportunities for Washington students by establishing educational tax credits to support low-income students.
House Bill 2063 would create a business and occupation (B&O) scholarship tax credit for donations to approved scholarship-granting charities which provide awards for private K-12 education in Washington. The scholarships created from these donations would only be available to students at or below 225 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
We need to level the playing field for all students in Washington state. Wealthy families already have school choice by choosing to live in districts with high-performing schools or paying to send their children to private schools. Low-income families only have one choice: the local assigned school. This bill is about empowering families to find the best educational environment for their students regardless of income.
The funding comes from private individuals and organizations donating money for scholarships, plus the state gives a tax credit which goes for the scholarship. All the money goes to an independent scholarship-granting organization, which provides the scholarships. Eligible recipients are families making less than 225 percent of the poverty-level income; in subsequent years the line is 275 percent (to avoid being eligible one year, but crossing the line the next = continuity). There will be a cap on donations.
Twelve other states have created similar tax incentives as proposed in my bill. In Florida it is called Students, the cap on donations is hit every year, even though they keep raising it. In Florida it is saving money: for every $1.00 in reduced revenues, the state saves $1.44 in costs. In addition to opening educational opportunities there is the added bonus of cost savings for Washington. Each student receiving a scholarship to attend a private school would save the usual state portion of the basic education allocation of about $6,300 per pupil per year. This could equate to savings in the millions of dollars for the 2013-15 budget alone.
This is a winning idea for students, parents and taxpayers in our state. I look forward to having more discussions like these about 'outside-the-box' ideas that can benefit everyone in our education system.
Congratulations Alexa Efraimson – Camas State Champion Track Star
I want to offer a hearty congratulations to Camas High School sophomore Alexa Afraimsom on her recent athletic accomplishments. It is no doubt her self-discipline, hard work, talent and desire helped her to win the Washington State 4A 800-meter race and 1600-meter race. I read in the paper Alexa set new state meet records in both events and that her time of 4 minutes 39.25 seconds in the 1600 also set a new national record. Congratulations Alexa! With these historic achievements, she has made all of us in Camas and Southwest Washington extremely proud! Go Camas Papermakers!
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"