Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In my last update, I provided an overview of the $43.7 billion operating budget we approved earlier this year. I also talked about the McCleary fix bill we passed that will help create equity for students and teachers, promote local control and implement a number of substantial reforms to our K-12 system.
Following our votes on these major pieces of legislation, there were just two more items of business that needed our attention before we could adjourn. Not only did we need to pass a two-year capital budget so local infrastructure projects could be funded, but we also needed to pass a bill to fix the state Supreme Court's disastrous Hirst decision.
In the 2016 decision, the court ruled that in order for counties to be in compliance with the state's Growth Management Act, they would be responsible for proving small wells wouldn't lower instream flows and harm fish — a responsibility that had previously been tasked to the Department of Ecology (DOE).
Since many landowners cannot afford to hire a hydrologist to do what the DOE used to do, their land continues to sit undeveloped. It's estimated their economic losses could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, as property values throughout rural communities decline due to a lack of development, those in urban areas will begin to bear the brunt of the shifting tax burden.
As the 2017 session wore on, Republicans in the Senate stated unequivocally that there would be no capital budget without a long-term Hirst fix. They passed Senate Bill 5239 four times, which would have solved the Hirst issue. However, with the encouragement of the governor, the speaker of the House refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote — even though a clear bipartisan majority in the House was ready to vote in favor of it. As a result, Senate Republicans refused to vote on the two-year capital budget passed by the House (and which I voted for), and the 2017 session came to a close after 193 days.
Some remain optimistic negotiators from all four caucuses will be able to come together and agree on a compromise before the start of the 2018 session. For the good of all Washingtonians, I sincerely hope that happens.
Working to end our overreliance on special sessions
Since joining the Legislature in 2013, I've been troubled by a problem nobody seems to want to fix: our overreliance on special sessions. For far too long, legislators have preserved a process where deadlines and cutoffs don't matter, hyper-partisan budgets are presented as reasonable starting points for negotiations, and collaboration is nonexistent. Quite frankly, if we don't get our act together, you will continue to bear the brunt of our irresponsibility and good legislators will leave for greener pastures.
Earlier this year, I introduced House Joint Resolution 4205, which would have suspended the pay of every member of the Legislature if an operating budget proposal was not presented to the governor by the end of the regular session. While the resolution was not heard in the House Appropriations Committee, I believe such a policy would have an immediate affect on productivity and you would begin to see us finishing our work on time.
Although my resolution did not pass, I'm not giving up on this effort. Later this interim, I will convene a bipartisan group of legislators from each chamber to begin looking at ways to overhaul our budgeting process so we can avoid special sessions in the future.
Hearing your feedback helps me serve our communities more effectively, so please continue contacting me with any questions, comments or concerns you have. I would also welcome any ideas you have for bills I could introduce during the 2018 legislative session. My phone number is (360) 786-7902 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
It is an honor to serve you in the Legislature.