Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's budget time in Olympia. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans rolled out their proposed operating budget plan. Next Monday, House Democrats will follow with their plan. Then the negotiations begin. We've also seen some movement in Oregon on the gillnetting issue, although far from what is needed. And I'm pleased to report my two bills in the Senate are making advances. Here's a quick look at each of these issues.
Oregon still falls short of its promise to recreational fishermen
As you know, I've been a fierce advocate of protecting the rights of our recreational fishermen who pay fishing license fees that make up the single largest portion of funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) budget. Last week, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission made a move in the right direction, but not far enough for celebration. Their decision more closely mirrors that of Washington's Fish and Wildlife Commission, which keeps non-selective large mesh gill nets out of the main stem Columbia River in the spring and summer.
The two states are split on fall allocation, with Washington allowing up to 75 percent for recreational anglers and Oregon allowing up to 70 percent for recreational anglers. Still at odds between the two states is the permanent end to non-selective gill nets in the main stem Columbia River. Oregon's decision to back away from the permanent removal of gill nets is extremely disappointing and does not bode well for the conservation of our salmon and steelhead runs for future generations.
I will continue to advocate that all parties keep the promises made to recreational anglers, to adhere to the compromise approach agreed to in the 2013 Columbia River Reform. It is more important than ever for WDFW to stand firm and not further compromise the conservation of our salmon and steelhead. All of this comes at a challenging time when WDFW is asking the Washington Legislature to approve a hefty fishing license fee increase. As always, I will keep you informed.
Initial review of Senate budget looks promising for Clark County taxpayers
The Senate budget rolled out earlier this week contains a plan to fully fund education and at the same time cuts property taxes in Clark County! The Senate approach to basic education would cut taxes statewide by replacing individual local school district maintenance and operation levies with a uniform statewide levy of $1.55 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. This means that everyone would pay an identical property tax rate for basic education programs, no matter what school district they live in.
Senate plan means big tax reductions for every Clark County homeowner!
According to documents released by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus last Tuesday, every homeowner in Clark County would see a tax cut under the budget plan. The median valuation of homes in Clark County is $299,900. The total savings column below represents the annual tax savings on an average-priced home in our county. Under the proposal, Camas School District patrons would save $305 annually, Battle Ground School District residents would save $527 and Hockinson School District residents would save $434 annually. These estimates, of course, are based on the new proposed $1.55 statewide levy rate that would replace the local levy rate, no matter what rate was approved previously by district patrons.
ACTUAL SAVINGS PROJECTIONS
|School District||Current 2017||New Proposed Levy||Annual Tax Savings*|
|Vancouver||$ 2.81||$ 1.55||$377|
|La Center||$ 2.69||$ 1.55||$341|
|Hockinson||$ 3.20||$ 1.55||$494|
|Green Mountain||$ 3.00||$ 1.55||$434|
|Washougal||$ 2.74||$ 1.55||$356|
|Evergreen||$ 3.00||$ 1.55||$530|
|Camas||$ 2.57||$ 1.55||$305|
|Battle Ground||$ 2.81||$ 1.55||$527|
|Ridgefield||$ 2 .20||$ 1.55||$149|
* Based on savings calculated annually on a home valued at $299,900 (2017 median home valuation in Clark County)
The $43 billion budget proposal provides full state funding for basic education, including a $12,500 per student formula, while reforming the school-levy system at the same time, as required by the Washington Supreme Court's 2012 McCleary decision. For the first time in our state's history, everyone in Washington would pay the same property tax rate for schools. This is the only way to satisfy the state's high court decision to amply fund education equally across the state, ensuring every child receives equal funding, regardless of Zip Code.
This means the vast majority of Washington homeowners would see tax cuts of several hundred dollars, even though the budget calls for a nearly $6 billion increase in property taxes. The difference would be made up by collecting higher taxes from property owners in the state's wealthiest school districts, mostly in Seattle and surrounding areas.
By fixing the school-funding issue, the Senate finds a way to bring tax relief to 83 percent of the state. Without question, it's a big win for the working families of not just the 18th District, but virtually every homeowner in Clark County.
Currently the average tax rate statewide is $2.54. Originally, the Senate proposed reducing taxes to a flat $1.80, but it cut the rate still further when a forecast last week projected that the state would collect $500 million more in taxes than previously expected. Senators make a great case for tax relief. Our economy is strong because the Legislature has resisted every attempt to raise taxes over the last four years. The plan does not give money back to the taxpayers – instead it lets them keep what is rightfully theirs.
I was honored to host 5th grade students from Chinook Elementary School in Vancouver during a trip to the State Capitol.
Other budget highlights
- Under the proposal, current funding of the Columbia River Gorge Commission is slashed by 50 percent. Many residents and businesses who have experienced the brunt of the commission's land-use policy will likely not shed a tear for this proposed budget reduction.
- The proposal assumes no passage of recreational fishing license fee increases. This is good news for our recreational anglers who were promised Columbia River reforms.
- The budget also permanently redirects $250 million from some Public Works Assistant Account (PWAA) funds. And, it sweeps another $127 million from the PWAA. I look forward to working with legislators to find a way to restore the PWAA, a valuable revolving loan fund that helps our smaller cities pay for important infrastructure projects.
- Cannabis revenues supplant $87 million in general fund spending.
- The budget increases mental health funding.
- Saves $28 million by reducing management staffing and eliminating select positions within state agencies that do not provide direct services to the public. This is certainly something that I support.
You can get more information on the Senate budget proposal here.
Next week, House Democrats will release their budget. It's early in the process. In the coming weeks, I will continue to keep you posted on budget developments.
David Broussard, a senior at Eastern Washington University studying Government and International Affairs has worked as my intern during the 2017 session. David is from Cheney.
Pike's public hearing bill advances from Senate Transportation Committee
A few days ago, House Bill 1606 passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee with a few no votes. This was a surprise to me since the House of Representatives passed this bill, 98-0. I do appreciate senators who support this measure, which would require cities and counties to hold a public hearing prior to raising car tab fees and other tax increases through Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD). TBDs have authority to levy some tax increases without a public vote and to raise other fees and taxes with a vote of the people. House Bill 1606 is a good government reform bill that adds an extra measure of accountability and public transparency to provide citizens with the opportunity to give input ahead of these tax increases. The bill now awaits further action by the full Senate.
Short-line rail bill receives Senate hearing
Earlier this week, I testified in support of my Growth Management Act (GMA) short-line rail measure, House Bill 1504, in front of the Senate Local Government Committee. I am so pleased that Chair Sen. Shelly Short scheduled this hearing. I have written extensively about the importance of this GMA reform bill which would allow new businesses that need large parcels with access to short-line railroads to locate in Clark County. Over the past few years, we have turned away four manufacturing companies that would have provided 7,500 new family-wage jobs in our community. I will continue to work hard to get this bill out of the Senate committee, and off the Senate floor. The quicker we can get this measure passed, the sooner we can attract these important new jobs to our region.
OPINION: We need forward-thinking transportation solutions!
I'm pleased my opinion piece about the need for strong leadership with forward-thinking solutions was published in last night's Camas-Washougal Post Record and recently in The Reflector (Battle Ground). In case you missed it, you can read it here.
Please stay in touch!
Your input is vital to the legislative process, especially in these final weeks of the 2017 session. Please call, write or email my office. My contact information is below. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"