Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature is over a week into its second 30-day special session. There is still no agreement on an operating budget or an education funding plan.
The education funding negotiation team continues to meet. Progress is being made, but the negotiations are slow given the extensive amount of detail involved. It doesn't help there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about the education funding proposals. The Washington Education Association recently ran a statewide radio ad blitz claiming the Senate Republican plan “doesn't increase funding” for the state's public schools, it “cuts teacher pay” and school districts would have to “fire school employees.” The statements are inaccurate and add nothing to the conversations we need to be having to reach a final solution. They fail to mention that the House Democrat plan they are so supportive of doesn't have enough votes to pass the taxes associated with the increase in spending.
That said, neither proposal will be the final compromise plan. In fact, the framework now being used is a plan House Republicans began working on almost a year ago. Every step of the way we continue to ask: How would this affect our students, school districts and taxpayers? With that approach we have been finding common ground. I am not on the negotiating team, but I have spoken daily to one of our members who is in the midst of the education-funding negotiations. While I cannot share details at this time, I like what I am hearing and think the basis for this compromise is sound.
We did receive some good news on the operating budget. The governor indicated there is not enough support in the House or Senate to pass a capital gains state income tax or business taxes – something we have known all along. However, he did say an internet sales tax, adjusting the real estate excise tax, closing tax exemptions and even a carbon tax are still on the table.
I would still question whether or not they have the votes for any of those tax ideas. We certainly do not need more revenue. Remember, we are expected to see more than a 13 percent increase in tax revenues this biennium. These are dollars coming into the state from you, the taxpayers. As you can see by the chart, the amount of proposed spending by House Democrats is excessive and unsustainable. No new or increased taxes are needed!
We shall know more in the next couple weeks when the June revenue forecast comes in. Budget negotiators may want to see those numbers before finalizing an agreement.
Special sessions are frustrating, but the past few special sessions have produced strong, bipartisan operating budgets. There is reason to be optimistic.
Bills signed into law
The governor signed two of my bills into law.
House Bill 1038 will allow small wineries to increase the number of locations where they may serve samples of their product or sell their own wine. Currently, wine tasting rooms are 'clustered' into a few specific areas around the state. The large producers are able to have their products readily available in convenience and grocery stores across the state. This expansion will allow our small wineries to increase business and be more competitive.
House Bill 1944 will exempt certain law enforcement officers from the field firearms skills portion of any hunter education course completed online. Law enforcement officers already go through extensive firearms training. Military officers are already exempt from the requirement. It should also open up some class time, as it will save up to four to six hours of training time for those who have qualified to take the firearms training.
Other bills I primed were included in omnibus bills and signed by the governor as well.
Transportation budget – fuel tax sticker law
In the transportation budget signed into law by the governor is my language that requires a sticker to be placed on all fuel pumps displaying current federal and state fuel tax rates.
Fuel is one of the few retail products in our state that consumers do not know how much tax they are paying. The fuel tax sticker gives us some transparency with our fuel taxation.
Consumers in Washington are paying 67.8 cents in tax per gallon of gas, and 71.8 cents in tax for diesel. Washington state's current gas tax is 49.4 cents per gallon. It is the second highest gas tax in the country behind Pennsylvania. The federal gas tax rate is 18.4 cents per gallon, 22.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. I am guessing most consumers did not realize how much we are paying in fuel taxes.
The transportation budget also included funding for:
- the Goodwin Bridge in Cashmere;
- intersection improvements at SR 28/Jct US 2 and US 97 to 9th St, in East Wenatchee;
- intersection improvements at SR 150/No-See-Um-Road, in Chelan County;
- improvements to the Woodin Ave. bridge in Chelan; and
- freight rail and track improvements near Coulee City.
Capital budget – Hirst decision
The state capital budget, is separate from our operating budget. It is often referred to as the “bricks and mortar” budget, and includes stewardship projects protecting our waterways and environment, as well as working with local governments and non-profits on infrastructure and long-term investments.
We have not passed a capital budget, and the Legislature may not pass a capital budget unless a solution is reached on the Hirst decision. A reminder, the Hirst decision is the state Supreme Court ruling from last October that jeopardizes development in rural Washington. The court determined domestic wells could potentially harm water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act and, therefore, may not qualify for a permit exemption. This has huge ramifications statewide, but particularly in our rural areas and communities.
We must have a solution to the Hirst ruling and there is speculation the governor would veto any solution passed by the Legislature. In order to prevent a veto, a capital budget may not be passed until the governor has signed a fix to the Hirst court ruling. Not fixing this issue could also jeopardize the education plan as well, due to huge tax shifts that would occur as property is devalued because of no water.
I hope you have found this update informative. Feel free to share this with anyone you feel may be interested.
Even though we are in a special session, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a legislative issue or idea. I am also available for meetings, and able to speak to groups and organizations.
It is an honor to serve the 12th District.