Dear Friends and Neighbors,
My first session representing you in the 12th Legislative District has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience. We were able to accomplish some important things, and passed strong, bipartisan capital and transportation budgets. However, there were many issues that continued to emphasize the philosophical differences between urban and rural Washington.
In my end of session review, I will touch on some of the bipartisan accomplishments, the operating and capital budgets, as well as my first bill being signed into law.
Operating budget and tax increases
This session will go down as one that was tough on the taxpayers, especially small businesses. In the final days of the session, and even the last few hours, the Legislature passed new and increased taxes, including;
- a B&O tax surcharge on services that will impact 90,000 employers.
- a new, redesigned real estate excise tax (REET) that will affect housing supply.
- a B&O tax increase on large banks.
- ending the sales tax exemption for Oregonians, which will affect the competitiveness of businesses in communities along the Columbia River.
- A higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas.
This tax list does not include Senate Bill 5313, which will allow school districts to increase levy limits. While it will provide school districts with more local control and flexibility, it will increase property taxes. There is concern it recreates the inequities that led to the McCleary lawsuit and the state could be right back where it started, facing another lawsuit.
Tax increases were unnecessary. The state is receiving record levels of tax dollars, from you, the taxpayer. The state's priority issues could have been funded within existing revenues.
The majority party used the tax revenue to increase spending by $8,000,000,000 or 18 percent. The state's operating budget grew from $44 billion in the last biennium and now exceeds $52.4 billion, approximately a 70 percent increase since 2013. That is not sustainable and leaves our state vulnerable for the next economic downturn.
Despite the large increase in spending, many of the state's obligations to local governments went unfunded such as indigent defense, elections, public health and safety regulations.
12th District capital budget
An important aspect of the legislative session is advocating for local projects that will benefit our communities and region. As a county commissioner, I have seen the need of local governments to rely on state funding for capital projects increase significantly. This is due in part to the state's unfunded mandates, rules and regulations, and fewer funding options available.
With the state helping create this problem, the capital budget is an important piece of legislation. There are good, noteworthy projects the state needs to address, but the capital budget contains those bricks and mortar type projects for our K-12 schools, colleges, local governments and community projects where funding may be difficult to come by. It also focuses on stewardship projects protecting our farmlands, waterways and environment. It's taxpayer dollars returning to district.
This year's capital budget passed with strong bipartisan support. I advocated for three specific projects: the Twisp Civic Building and Emergency Operations Center, Substance Use Disorder Facility in Chelan County, and the New Path, Columbia Valley Community Health (CVCH) office renovations. There were a number of other projects for the 12th District including monies for the:
- replacement of Wells Hall at Wenatchee Valley College;
- Coulee City Medical Clinic;
- Winthrop Library;
- Wenatchi Landing sewer extension;
- Manson School District's early learning facilities;
- Heritage Senior Housing project;
- Chumstick Creek removal of two fish barriers; and
- revitalization in historic downtown Chelan.
The 2019 session featured several important bipartisan successes passed into law. One of the most noteworthy bills to pass for our region is one that will 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 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 sex offenses.
Governor signs bill related to foreclosure proceedings
My first bill through the legislative process is House Bill 1634, which will
officially make any property sold by a county treasurer in a tax lien foreclosure sale to be sold “as is.” It provides protection for local government and full disclosure for potential buyers.
District office – stay in touch
There is much to consider in this interim period. The longest serving Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, will be replaced and the new Speaker may have different priorities which will control the legislation we consider.
I hope you have found this end-of-session update informative. While the legislative session is over, please remember I'm your state representative year-round. 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.