Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2018 legislative session adjourned Thursday, March 8. After a record 193-day session in 2017, I think everyone was happy to adjourn on time within our allotted 60 days this year. While we accomplished some great things this session, there's much more we could have done.
Continue reading to learn more about some of the hits and misses of the 2018 session
Republicans stave off unnecessary tax increases
This year, the governor and Senate Democrats pushed for a carbon tax that would have significantly increased the costs of gas (18-20 cents per gallon), and electricity and natural gas (by 5-10 percent), all without making a measurable or significant reduction in the state's carbon emissions. House Democrats also introduced a capital gains (income) tax and included it as part of their supplemental operating budget proposal. Thankfully, both tax proposals were rejected in the end.
With the state expecting $1.3 billion more in revenue over the next four years, there's no reason to raise taxes on Washington families. We can fund our priorities with existing tax collections; we don't need to take more money from taxpayers.
Capital budget provides funding for local projects
The 2017-19 capital budget the Legislature approved earlier this year prioritized our schools, and provided much-needed funding for our mental-health institutions and housing. It also funded a number of local infrastructure projects, including:
- $515,000 for the Airway Heights Recreation Complex;
- $345,000 for predesign work on a new engineering building at Eastern Washington University;
- $3 million for vaults, a secondary road and an expanded irrigation system at Washington State Veterans Cemetery at Medical Lake; and
- $3 million for a new forensic ward at Eastern State Hospital.
The 2018 supplemental capital budget that passed last week includes:
- $3.5 million for another forensic ward at Eastern State Hospital;
- $1.4 million for predesign and design of the Pine Lodge Behavioral Rehabilitation Services, which will benefit foster youth, and;
- $61,000 for escalated costs to design a single Fine and Applied Arts building that will replace two buildings currently housing the fine arts, photography, and other applied arts programs at Spokane Falls.
Hirst fix enacted into law
In 2017, Republican efforts to pass a comprehensive solution to a state Supreme Court case, known as Hirst, that prevented many rural property owners from building on their land fell short. After an interim full of negotiations and proposals going back and forth, the Legislature was able to provide a permanent Hirst fix at the beginning of the 2018 session.
Under Senate Bill 6091, water usage is set to a minimum of 950 to 3,000 gallons per day, depending on the watershed, and existing wells are grandfathered in. It also invests $300 million over 15 years in projects that will improve instream flows.
I still have some concerns with the bill as it relates to the mitigation process, but the solution that was enacted provided nearly immediate and long-term relief to rural families who had been waiting for a solution for more than two years.
Lawmakers approve unsustainable budget
While the 2018 supplemental budget the Legislature enacted last month continues our commitment to improving our K-12 education system and makes investments in our mental health system, I couldn't support a budget that relies on gimmicks and unsustainably grows state spending.
The budget increases state spending by $1.2 billion in 2017-19, and another $600 million in 2019-21, amounting to a nearly 16 percent increase in spending since the 2015-17 budget was enacted. We can't create a budget based solely on the good times, and we shouldn't be spending nearly every cent of the extra revenue growth we're expected to see over the next four years.
The budget also relies on a gimmick that diverts money away from our constitutionally protected rainy-day fund. Our economy is performing well right now, but that doesn't mean we won't eventually face a downturn.
Property tax relief scant
The supplemental operating budget approved earlier this month also provided $390 million in state property tax reductions for 2019. For a $300,000 home, that amounts to about a $90 rebate. Republicans offered proposals that would have provided meaningful relief this year, but they were rejected by the majority party. Sadly, unless you live in the Puget Sound area, it's unlikely you'll see significant relief next year, if at all. Since a new biennial budget will be written and go into effect before the property tax reductions kick in, there's no guarantee lawmakers won't take back this scant relief for the 2019-21 budget.
3 percent COLA for PERS/TRS 1 rejected by Democrats
For the past seven years, member of the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS 1) and Teachers Retirement System (TRS Plan 1) have not received a cost-of-living-adjustment. The 2018 supplemental operating budget does provide them a 1.5 percent COLA of up to $62.50 per month, but House Republicans believed we could have provided a full COLA at 3 percent. In fact, we offered an amendment that would have done just that, but it was rejected on party lines 50-47.
With the state expecting a revenue windfall, we could and should have done better. Many of those in PERS/TRS 1 are senior citizens on fixed incomes who are struggling to make ends meet. Not to mention our state is facing a teacher shortage. According to multiple surveys in recent years, more than 90 percent of school district human resource directors and principals have said they're either in “crisis mode” or “struggling” when it comes to finding qualified candidates for teaching positions. We should be doing what we can to incentivize new teachers to stay in the profession, but when they see retirees endure a seven-year COLA gap, it's no wonder so many seek careers in other fields that can offer better long-term benefits.
Bottom line: we could have done right by those who dedicated their professional lives to educating our children and helping our state operate effectively. I hope we can come back next year and finally provide them with a meaningful COLA.
Staying in touch
Although session has adjourned, my work for you continues year-round. Should you ever have questions, concerns, or ideas for improving our communities and state, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. You can contact me at my Spokane office at (509) 456-2750 or send an email to Mike.Volz@leg.wa.gov.