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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
By the time you read this, I will either be on I-5 south, heading home to Camas, or enjoying the sunshine at my farm. Long-time lawmakers at the end of session often say, “Happiness is Olympia in your rear-view mirror.” After 103 days of long hours and hard work, I can relate.
The final scheduled day of the 2017 session is this Sunday, April 23. However, the House adjourned this afternoon and sent lawmakers home because an immediate special session is being called by the governor for Monday. The reason? The majority parties in the House and Senate have not reached agreement on a two-year state operating budget.
So, we are being sent home and will stay back in the district until budget negotiators reach a final compromise plan that can gain the support of a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate. How long that will take is anyone's guess. What I do know is we need to have an operating budget in place by July 1 to ensure continued operations of the state.
While we are all disappointed the Legislature is going into extra innings, there were some victories over the course of the last four months. I wanted to take a few moments to highlight the biggest “winners and losers” of the 2017 session.
WINNER: Clark County wins with passage of House Bill 1504, a pro-jobs bill for our region!
House Bill 1504 will ensure that our own Chelatchie Prairie Short-Line Railroad will work for us by attracting new manufacturing jobs to Clark County. Several prospective new businesses that require a large parcel of land in excess of 100 acres with access to rail in order to get their goods to market want to locate here. Due to current restrictions within the state's Growth Management Act, this bill is absolutely necessary to bring good, family-wage jobs back to our rural communities that are still struggling from job losses due to the Great Recession.
Short lines provide the important connection to mainline rail transcontinental networks so that our manufacturers, farmers, and other sectors have access to national and global markets. HB 1504 will apply to short-line railroads in Clark County and all of eastern Washington.
I'm delighted to report this bill is finally on its way to the governor's desk. With its passage, we can bring thousands of new living-wage jobs to our community.
I was delighted passage of this bill was highlighted in two major media outlets:
LOSER: Citizens lose with $8 billion in proposed new taxes (But we are fighting to stop it!)
The House majority proposed a new two-year state operating budget that would raise an estimated $8 billion in new taxes on citizens and businesses over the next four years. The proposal includes a new 7 percent capital gains income tax, a 20 percent increase in the already oppressive business and occupation tax, a new sales tax on bottled water, and closing a sales tax exemption on out-of-state residents who shop in Washington. I am opposed to all of these measures because they would harm our working families.
These proposed tax increases are also why the Legislature is heading into a special session. While no one wanted to go into overtime, majority party leaders in the House continue to propose these enormous tax increases that even their own members will not vote for. It's impossible to negotiate a budget on “hopeful” revenue that doesn't and will never exist.
It's time for state government to live within existing revenues and for legislators of all stripes to recognize every dollar government spends is a dollar earned by hardworking citizens. At a time when our state economy is improving and almost $3 billion in new revenue is coming in to state government coffers, it is unconscionable that budget writers are considering any tax increase.
During my first term inf office in 2013, the Washington State Legislature passed a $33.5 billion two-year operating budget. Then in 2015, we passed a $38 billion budget. Now the majority party is advocating for a $45 billion budget for 2017-19 and as much as $51 billion for the 2019-21 budget cycle. This represents a nearly $20 billion increase over eight years. This is absolutely ridiculous! I will continue to oppose this budget madness!
LOSER: Wasting $350,000 of your tax dollars to save expiring Columbia River Crossing permits and data
Call it the “zombie” project, just when you thought the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) proposal was dead and buried for good, the “mourners” keep trying to bring it back to life. For example, there's been a lot of wasted time and money spent this session with a Senate bill that supporters hope would jump-start a replacement of the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River. I've been involved with this contentious issue since 2013 when the CRC, with its signature light-rail component, was soundly rebuked by a majority of Clark County citizens.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the CRC project was halted following the expenditure of $200 million of taxpayer money paid to overpriced consultants, some of which had conflicts of interests, raising serious questions of ethical violations.
Citizens lose with $350,000 appropriated on a meaningless piece of Washington legislation now heading to the governor's desk. It's interesting to note that the Portland media is reporting this bill as a measure “to save expiring permits issued by the US Coast Guard,” and not a bi-state bridge bill at all. Yet proponents insist this bill is not the CRC version 2.0.
Citizens should be wary of so much motion to jump-start a failed project just months before the permits are set to expire. It's important to note these permits are for a specific project with a specific design containing light rail. It is clearly in the best interests of Clark County residents to let these CRC permits expire for good.
Also, by the looks of it, we are going to get help from legislative leaders in the state of Oregon to indeed let these permits die. Officials to the south recently stated to the Oregonian they have no interest in participating in a new I-5 replacement bridge over the Columbia River. While it's unfortunate for Washington taxpayers that an additional $350,000 is about to be wasted, later this year, citizens will finally be able to give a sigh of relief that this unwanted light-rail project is finally dead. Let us hope it stays that way!
Now is the ideal time to create a forward thinking vision between Oregon and Washington legislators who want a fresh start with an overarching corridor understanding. That corridor strategy must include new corridors to the west and east of the Interstate 5 bridge with hard data on how those new corridors would perform to improve our region's transportation system for freight haulers and commuters! I will continue to have conversations with business and elected leaders on both sides of the river who understand the importance of developing this strategy to meet our needs now and in the future.
WINNER: You! I work for you throughout the year!
Although the 2017 regular session is coming to a close, I work for you year-round. I maintain an office in Olympia. My legislative assistant, Shelby Pelon, is happy to take your call. Please contact me any time you have questions, comments, concerns or suggestions about legislation, or if you need help navigating a state agency. You will find my contact information below.
Thank you for allowing me the honor of serving and representing you!
"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