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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It is Day 67 of the scheduled 105-day session. We're hearing rumors that the House Democrats may be releasing their operating budget proposal sometime next week. We've also heard that the spending plan may exceed existing revenues, which would set the foundation for tax increases.
It is important to note that the state is bringing in an additional $3 billion in this coming budget cycle without tax increases. That's nearly an 8 percent increase in revenues. Did you get an 8 percent increase in your paycheck? Probably not. So any proposal that would rely on tax increases is, in my view, not a serious proposal at all. Government needs to live within its means, just like you and I must do in our own budgets.
On Monday, the House Environment Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5057, which I believe is a more rational approach toward addressing concerns of oil train safety in Washington. As a member of the committee, I'm keeping a close eye on this bill and the House measure, House Bill 1449, that had a hearing yesterday in the Senate. You can read more about where I stand on these bills below.
Your input on these and other bills is very important to me. Please continue to call, write or e-mail my Olympia office. You will find my contact information at the bottom of this e-newsletter.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!
Senate Bill 5057 – A better alternative to rail oil safety
One of the most important issues to come before the 2015 Legislature is oil safety by rail. I've received a fair amount of emails and Facebook comments on this subject. Recently I voted “NO” on House Bill 1449 because it contained several elements that I oppose. However, let me be very clear: my priority on this issue is for the safe transportation of crude oil through our communities in Washington. While I'm opposed to House Bill 1449, I support an alternative measure, Senate Bill 5057 in its current form offered by Sen. Doug Ericksen. Please check out this linked article about the Senate bill which passed out of that chamber March 9.
If Senate Bill 5057 emerges from the House Environment Committee without substantial changes, I'm inclined to support it when it comes to the House floor for a vote.
Ericksen's bill requires the Department of Ecology to review oil-spill response plans, provide grants to local emergency responders and convene a panel to evaluate whether tug escorts are needed for oil vessels on our rivers. When we heard this bill last year in the House Environment Committee, I was contacted by several Columbia River tug pilots from the 18th District who were opposed to additional tug escorts as outlined in House Bill 1449. These river pilots work on the river every day and their position is that additional tugs will actually create a more dangerous situation in confined waterways. Since these experienced pilots are on the front lines of river transportation, their testimony had merit.
House Bill 1449 also contains a 150 percent increase in barrel taxes collected in Washington, compared to Senate Bill 5057, which simply extends the existing barrel tax on oil that comes by train, with the proceeds going to an oil-spill response fund. There is no doubt a 150 percent barrel tax would increase the price of fuel and place a regressive burden on low-income seniors, our working poor and other low-income families. I cannot support yet another tax increase on our most vulnerable citizens.
Another aspect of House Bill 1449 I opposed was the public disclosure of any location of bulk oil because it would pose a very serious threat to our homeland security. Imagine the danger if every terrorist in the world knew the exact time and place of every shipment of bulk crude oil in Washington. Furthermore, House Bill 1449 would invite costly lawsuits based on federal preemption laws since railroads in the United States are subject to rules and regulations by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA was created by Congress in 1966 as one of 10 federal agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation concerned with intermodal transportation. According to its website, FRA's mission is to enable safe, efficient and reliable movement of goods for a strong America, now and in the future.
FRA is set to release a package of comprehensive new federal rules and regulations related to the transportation of crude oil by rail in May 2015. That is just a few months from now. While it seems prudent to address important safety measures in this legislative session, we may end up revisiting much of this legislation after the FRA releases its new federal guidelines.
This is an important issue that I take very seriously. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. As always I welcome your feedback.
Flyover bridge alternative worth considering, says local media
Last week in this e-newsletter update, I discussed at length an alternative proposal to the now-dead and failed Columbia River Bridge project. We call it the I-5 Practical Design Flyover or I-5 PDF.
Here's how I described it in last week's report: “Rough mechanics for the fly-over include a concrete six-lane bridge located upstream from the existing structures and would flow in a straight line due south from Mill Plain toward Portland Meadows. The new structure would be toll free and would not contain light rail.”
The media coverage of this bridge proposal has been very favorable. Here are some links of that coverage:
- EDITORIAL: Back to Square One: It's time to put partisan divides aside, and develop ideas to replace the I-5 bridge (The Columbian)
- COLUMN: Press Talk: Politicians behaving badly (Lou Brancaccio/The Columbian
- Three local lawmakers float I-5 bridge plan (The Columbian)
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"
469 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7812 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000