Rep. Goehner’s legislative session review
When the legislative session adjourned on April 28 it was the first time since 2009 the Legislature ended the 105-day legislative session on time. That was the good news. The bad news is over the last few days, and even hours, the House and Senate passed a $52.4 billion budget that represents an $8 billion increase (or an 18% increase) over current spending levels.
The budget relies on billions of dollars in new tax increases over the next four years — despite the fact our state had a budget surplus. The new and increased taxes include:
- A B&O tax surcharge on services that will affect 90,000 employers.
- A new, redesigned real estate excise tax (REET) that will affect housing supply.
- A B&O tax increase on large banks.
- A higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas.
- Ending the sales tax exemption for Oregonians, which will affect the competitiveness of businesses in communities along the Columbia River.
We entered the 2019 session with a $2.8 billion surplus along with historic state taxpayer revenues coming into state coffers. Raising taxes was unnecessary. We could have funded the state's priority issues within existing revenues.
State spending has increased approximately 70% since 2013, when Gov. Inslee took office. This leaves our state vulnerable for the next economic downturn.
The Legislature adjourned just over a month ago, but the constitutionality of some of the taxes is expected to be challenged.
The tax list does not include Senate Bill 5313, which will allow school districts to increase levy limits. While it will provide school districts more local control and flexibility, it will increase property taxes. There is concern it recreates the inequities that led to the McCleary lawsuit, the K-12 education funding case, and the state could be right back where it started, facing another lawsuit.
Coming from the Chelan County Commission, I was disappointed that despite the large increase in spending, many of the state's obligations to local governments that have been underfunded continue to be with this budget – such as indigent defense, elections, public health and safety regulations.
State government continues to grow without addressing their past responsibilities or commitments. We need to deliver true government services in a more efficient manner instead of taking on new programs and projects.
Despite the operating budget and tax increases, there was a lot of good, bipartisan work done this session.
One of most noteworthy bills that passed that will affect our region is legislation to allow public utility districts (PUD's) to produce, sell and distribute hydrogen. With the passage of the legislation, Douglas County PUD will spend the next few years working on a hydrogen production pilot project.
This has the potential to be a key component in developing new clean energy sources. It is exciting to see local utilities and the private sector capitalize on legislative incentives to expand alternative sources of energy through creative development. Other bipartisan successes this session include:
- requiring the Department of Natural Resources to prioritize forest health treatments to include long, narrow wildfire prevention corridors and share the information with firefighting personnel;
- expanding broadband to enable economic development, public safety and health;
- a December 2021 deadline set for the Washington State Patrol to eliminate the untested rape kit backlog;
- establishment of new rules regarding opioid prescribing and dispensing of opioid overdose reversal medication; and
- eliminating the statute of limitations for most sex crimes committed against minors, and extending the statute of limitations for most other sex offenses.
Interim – district office
It was certainly a different dynamic coming from the 3-person Chelan County Commission to the state House of Representatives where you are one of 98 members. It is also obvious there continues to be philosophical differences between urban and rural Washington. As we move forward, I will continue to work on strengthening relationships in Olympia and work on issues and policies that benefit the 12th District.
My district office is open. I am available to answer your questions, listen to your ideas, and help you navigate problems with state government. Feel free to contact my district office to schedule a time to meet or speak to your group or organization. My district office phone number is 509-664-1274. It is an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.
Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, represents the 12th Legislative District in the Washington State Legislature. He serves on the House State Government and Tribal Relations, Local Government and Transportation committees.