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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 105 days in a regular session that began in January and three 30-day special sessions, the last one concluding this Thursday, July 20, is the finish line in view for the Legislature? There is hope.
Only two important pieces of business remain for this year's Legislature: a permanent fix on the state Supreme Court Hirst decision regarding water rights for individual property owners and adopting a $4.2 billion capital construction budget.
We received notice yesterday calling us back to Olympia on Thursday with the expectation of passing both of these measures and, hopefully adjourning for the year after being in session for one of the longest periods in recent history.
Once the Legislature has adjourned, I will provide details in this e-newsletter on each of the major issues addressed during the sessions. Today, I wanted to provide a quick update on the McCleary education solution, operating budget, Hirst and my GMA rail bill that was finally signed into law.
K-12 education infused with billions of additional money as final McCleary solution is adopted
It was Jan. 5, 2012, more than five years ago that the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state was not living up to its paramount and constitutional duty to amply provide for the education of children within its borders. It gave the Legislature until 2018 to put additional education funding and reforms in place. In the past four years, the Legislature has stepped up and provided an additional $4.6 billion for K-12 education.
The court also said Washington must stop relying on local school district property taxes to pay teachers, school administrators and classified staff. Addressing that issue was the final piece of the McCleary puzzle. We did that this year by passing House Bill 2242, which places the primary responsibility of K-12 education funding onto the state through a method of levy reform.
The bill increases the statewide property tax by about 81 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2018. However, in 2019 many property owners across the state will see their property taxes go down. The new law will cap the levies at either $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value or $2,500 per student, whichever is lower. Levy equalization assistance is provided to property poor districts that can't reach $1,500 per pupil at a levy of $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value.
This new plan will pump about $7.3 billion of additional state money into public schools over the next four years. K-12 education now represents more than 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time since the early 1980s.
Teacher salary begins at $40,000, plus a 10 percent increase for Certified Instructional Staff after five years. There's a maximum salary of $90,000 and a district-wide average salary of about $64,000 per teacher. You can read more about the McCleary solution here.
Legislature adopts $43.7 billion state operating budget at the last hours of fiscal cycle
Permit me to rant for a moment — and I think many of you feel the same as I do. The 2017 legislative session ought to go down in history as one of the worst for public transparency. Passing a multi-billion dollar, two-year state operating budget within hours of a government shutdown on June 30 is not the way our Legislature should be doing business.
As a third-term state representative, I can attest there is adequate time within the allotted 105-day regular session to introduce, negotiate and pass a final budget with full public view. Citizens deserve to know what is in the budget before it comes to a vote. Rank-and-file legislators deserve to know what's being negotiated, including all of the new tax incentives and tax increases being considered. During the final negotiations on this new budget, only a handful of legislators were privy to this information and it was sprang upon us only hours before the vote. That isn't right.
Besides the McCleary solution (House Bill 2242), we voted just hours before the end of the 2015-17 budget cycle on a new two-year state operating budget (Senate Bill 5883).
The final budget agreement provides the following appropriations:
- $22 billion for K-12 education;
- $14 billion for the Department of Social and Health Services and other human services; and
- $3.9 billion for other agencies and programs.
We also voted on House Bill 2163, a measure that would enact several tax increases, including sales tax on bottled water and self-produced refinery fuels, and collection of sales tax on Internet sales.
I voted 'no' on all three measures. Here's why:
The 2017-19 budget increases state spending by 27 percent over the next four years. It is not a sustainable budget since it relies on one-time revenue sources from the state's rainy-day fund and other budget gimmicks. Despite nearly $3 billion in new revenue coming into the state from a recovering economy, the budget is dependent upon large tax increases, including a $1.6 billion increase in the state property tax. The budget sweeps $328 million from dedicated accounts, including $254 million from the Public Works Assistance Account, which provides low-interest loans to municipalities for water and sewer infrastructure. Plus, the four-year outlook shows appropriations will grow to $49.6 billion in the 2017-21 budget. That's a $19 billion increase in just eight years!
Every dollar government spends is a dollar first earned and then taken from our hard working citizens. If we hit another economic downturn, the Legislature will either be forced to make drastic cuts or raise taxes. I invite you to read more about why I voted against these bills in my press release.
Slimmed-down GMA short-line rail bill gains governor's signature
After Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed my House Bill 1504, which would have allowed development of freight-rail-dependent facilities along Clark County's Chelatchie Prairie Railroad and adjacent to all short-line railroads in Eastern Washington, I went to work on an alternative solution that would gain his signature. The result was passage of Senate Bill 5517, which is a companion measure to my original bill.
This slimmed-down version of my bill will allow limited development along the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad and short-line rail in Okanogan County. Under the Senate measure, Clark and Okanogan counties and the cities within those counties may adopt development regulations to assure that agricultural lands, forest lands and mineral lands next to short-line railroads may be developed for freight-dependent uses. This could bring as many as 7,300 jobs to rural Clark County.
I'm pleased to report the governor signed the measure into law. You can read more about this in my press release here.
Fixing the Hirst decision
Last October, in a deeply flawed ruling known as the “Hirst” decision, our state's Supreme Court held that counties, not the state, must determine whether there is adequate water for private wells before issuing building permits. The ruling means landowners with undeveloped properties may never be able to dig a well on their property unless they can prove not a single drop of water would be removed from instream flows. Without water, there is no development, and these lands become worthless or significantly lose their market value.
It's also important to note that water drawn from private, single-family wells use less than one percent of all the state's water, yet this minuscule user group is being targeted as if it is the largest user of water.
Futurewise is the anti-growth environmental group that helped fund the Hirst lawsuit. They will not be satisfied until they force everyone to live in a city. They continue to push a false narrative that people who live in rural areas are the problem. The science shows otherwise. My small farm in Fern Prairie is served by a private well. Nearly all of the water that we draw is returned to the underground aquifer through our septic and drainage system. Many other rural residents do the same.
A Republican-sponsored measure, Senate Bill 5239, to permanently roll back the Hirst decision passed the Senate four times. But the House has yet to act on it. Instead, majority Democrats in the House have proposed only an 18-month window for wells to be dug, with the Hirst provisions becoming effective after that.
As we return to the Capitol Thursday, I'm told there may be a new agreement on a Hirst fix. If that's the case, Senate Republicans will also allow their vote on a $4.2 billion capital construction budget to fund infrastructure across our state. With those two items finished, the Legislature can finally adjourn for the year.
I work for you throughout the year!
Even though the Legislature may finish its business, I represent you every day of the year. If you have questions, comments or suggestions about state government and/or legislation, please contact my office in Olympia. My contact information is below. Thank you for allowing me to serve and represent 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