The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Walsh’s Report from Olympia April 21, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Walsh’s newsletter, click here.
Dear friends and neighbors,
After nearly four months’ work in Olympia, our regular legislative session has come to an end, yet we’re still not finished.
Big disputes still must be resolved in an overtime session before we can adjourn for the year. Foremost among these disputes is the budget. Negotiations have been sluggish, primarily because of the House’s refusal to offer a complete proposal. Instead, it has proposed a spending plan, without the money to back it up.
The House plan requires a $3 billion tax increase, the largest in state history. But our Democratic colleagues in the House have refused to take the tough vote for the taxes to raise that money.
Two years ago, a similar standoff brought the state to the brink of shutdown. Yet the fact is, we still have to pass a budget before June 30, and it will require bipartisan support.
We already have $3 billion more than we did in 2015, the last time we wrote a budget – without raising taxes. This money is the result of a booming economy, not a tax increase. We should be able to meet the state’s needs without asking for more. In the Senate, we have passed a $43 billion operating budget that does not dip deeper into taxpayers’ pockets, yet meets all the state’s needs – including fully funding basic education.
In the 16th District, I often meet people who are having difficulty making ends meet. The Legislature needs to keep these folks in mind as it considers increasing their tax burden. We also need to remember that higher taxes often reduce the incentive for people to make charitable contributions – vitally important for maintaining our social safety net. As we struggle to meet the state Supreme Court’s demands on K-12 education, we must work to do the least damage to the economy, and the least harm to our constituents. We will be fighting for this principle in special session, while working for a bipartisan consensus that puts the needs of the people first.
Unfinished business left for special session
The budget isn’t the only piece of unfinished business before us. Two big ones:
Household wells. A Supreme Court decision last year has created a crisis for rural property owners who hope eventually to develop their land. The Hirst decision requires them to overcome difficult, if not impossible bureaucratic hurdles in order to drill new household-sized wells, which in many counties are a requirement for building permits. Senate Bill 5239, which I have co-sponsored, would overturn the ruling and restore this state’s sensible approach to water management – but the House so far has refused to take action.
Sound Transit car-tab fees. Many of us in Eastern Washington can remember when we faced enormous taxes every time we renewed our car tabs. These taxes supposedly were based the value of our cars, but the state relied on a schedule that deliberately overvalued them. Last fall voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties approved a $54 billion bond issue for new light-rail transit, without realizing the proposition would require them to pay car-tab taxes based on this long-abandoned schedule. Howls of protest have made this one of the biggest issues of the year. In the Senate, we have passed a bill that bases taxes on actual market value, but the House so far has opposed this common-sense tax relief.
Bills clear Legislature
Over the last two weeks, several bills I have sponsored have passed the Legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature. They are:
Page scholarships (SB 5346). This bill creates a legislative page scholarship program in memory of Gina Grant Bull, the Walla Walla native who died last year as she served as page supervisor in the House. The program, to be funded with private donations, will provide assistance with housing, uniforms and other needs.
Vocational training for welfare recipients (SB 5347). This bill gives welfare recipients two years to complete job-training programs before job-search requirements kick in. Currently they get just one year – and many find it impossible to complete their degrees or certificates before time runs out. This bill improves the chance they will finish their training and find work in their career fields.
Inmate education (SB 5069). This bill provides new education opportunities for prison inmates, allowing community colleges to offer two-year associate degree programs at Washington penitentiaries. Those serving sentences of life without parole, or who are on death row, are ineligible. This bill creates no additional cost to the state, but allows for private donations and inmate contributions. Most importantly, it will help establish inmates in careers upon their release and reduce the chance they will commit new crimes.
Transportation deal advances Lewis Street overpass
Replacement of the crumbling Lewis Street underpass in Pasco, a Depression-era public works project, has long been a priority for the city. This narrow underpass, which crosses the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline, is a bottleneck for traffic between the downtown area and fast-growing East Pasco. I have been working to advance the timetable for its replacement with a new four-lane overpass. We were able to provide $2 million to begin engineering and planning work over the next two years, making it possible to begin construction in 2019-21.
In the news: Lawmakers must face reality in funding education
An editorial Tuesday in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin endorses the Senate’s plan for a new system to fund basic education statewide. The state Supreme Court has ordered us to devise a fairer approach that treats all students equally. The Union-Bulletin says:
A significant number of lawmakers (mostly Democrats) are stubbornly clinging to the belief they won’t have to enact a “levy swap,” a statewide property tax that replaces much of the current local voter-approved school levy taxes now used by most school districts to supplement basic-education costs.
… Enacting a “levy swap” would result in some property owners paying higher taxes — cities with high property values such Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island — while others will pay less. Property assessments would go down in places with lower property values, generally the rural and more economically challenged parts of the state. This approach is equitable. Those who can most afford to pay will bear the greatest burden while every school in the state would have the funds to pay for basic education costs.
If you have questions about bills being considered by the Legislature, or general questions about state government, I encourage you to get in touch with me. You can do so using the contact information below.
I look forward to hearing from you.