The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

Legislative Commentary

 

Last updated 2/22/2018 at Noon



Much has been happening at the Capitol, but before commenting on some of the key decisions I’ll point out that today is day 40 of our 60-day session. We’re at the stage where the Senate committees are considering bills passed by the House, and vice versa.

More significantly, the first state revenue forecast of 2018 was released Thursday – and it’s an absolute game-changer in my book, as I’ll explain. The Senate and House budget writers will use the forecast to fine-tune their budget proposals, which should emerge next week.

That’ll leave about two weeks for the Senate and House to reach agreement on not only the operating-budget adjustments but the other budgets and other bills on the table.

New revenue numbers should mean tax relief…

Yesterday someone mentioned that it’s “raining money in Olympia,” and here’s why. The first state revenue forecast for 2018 predicts state revenue collections will come in $1.3 billion higher than previously forecast for the next two budget cycles.

Combined with $1.05 billion in added revenue growth since the end of the 2017 legislative session, and $90 million in reduced caseload costs, the new forecast means the state’s financial picture has improved by more than $2.4 billion since we left the Capitol last summer.

I haven’t seen growth like that since about a dozen years ago.

Our side of the aisle has already proposed that we take advantage of this situation to offset the one-year property tax “spike” happening across the state this year.

The spike is a result of the transition to the new school-funding system, which will take full hold in 2019 and lower property-tax rates for nearly all Washington property owners below what they were in 2017.

So far the new Democrat majority in the Senate has resisted.

…and no more talk of new taxes

The $2.5 billion upswing in state government’s financial position should also serve to drive a stake through the heart of the Democrats’ unconscionable scheme to impose a multibillion-dollar energy tax on hardworking families and employers.

It would force a 30-cent rise in the price of a gallon of gas in addition to higher heating and cooling bills. But later yesterday the new Senate majority still had our Senate budget committee go forward with a hearing on the energy-tax bill.

The positive revenue forecast also should end any talk of a new income tax.

However, a committee hearing on this year’s House Democrat proposal for a new state income tax (supposedly in exchange for reducing the state property tax) still went forward Friday.

That further confirms my feeling that the energy-tax proposal and the proposed income tax (on capital gains) are simply about scoring political points.

What we should be doing is considering targeted financial relief: for property owners, but also manufacturers and maybe college students too.

And there are other one-time investments to consider, like expanding behavioral-health facilities or catching up on state park maintenance. They would bring good returns without making government bigger than it already is.

Senate backs bills to increase
school safety, reduce college suicides

One of the many bills to win unanimous approval in the Senate chamber this past week was Senator Mike Padden’s school-safety bill.

Senate Bill 6410 would ensure that first responders notify both public and private schools during any situation in their vicinity that would warrant an evacuation or lockdown.

Hours later we learned of the senseless school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which only points up the need for a policy like this.

Several days earlier we had also unanimously approved Senate Bill 6514. This bipartisan legislation would promote a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and behavioral health at our colleges and universities, with enhanced services for students who are veterans.

The goal is to enhance mental-health services on campus. My Republican colleague from Kennewick, Senator Sharon Brown, introduced the bill based on the findings of a 2016 task force.

It’s one of the most important bills of the session, in my view, and is also the topic of my latest blog post.

Death-penalty debate
 a disservice to victims’ families

The death penalty has been an optional sentence in our state for more than 40 years. The voters made it an option, in cases of aggravated first-degree murder.

I recognize the challenges that go with a death-penalty case – how some counties can afford it but others can’t, and what seem like endless appeals before the sentence is carried out.

But I was disappointed four years ago when Governor Inslee put a moratorium on carrying out executions for as long as he’s in office.

And I was disappointed again this past week when the Senate majority effectively silenced the voices of senators who believe there’s still a place for the ultimate punishment.

Because the other side blocked consideration of proposed Republican amendments that would focus the death-penalty option on the murders of law-enforcement officers and corrections officers in the line of duty, we were left with an all-or-nothing vote.

Unfortunately, these days I don’t have trust that a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the alternative to capital punishment, truly means “life without parole,” even in the case of a police officer’s murder. Do you?

Senate puts high priority on broadband access

Access to broadband/cellular is to rural communities these days what the railroad once was – a vital piece of infrastructure that makes for a better quality of life.

We know that technology allows people to work at certain jobs from nearly anywhere, but first, the technology has to be there. I typically run into four gaps in cell service just between Ritzville and North Bend.

This past week I helped support the overwhelming passage of Senate Bill 5935, which would designate high-speed broadband service for all of Washington as a high-priority state concern.

SB 5935 would follow federal standards in setting a target for high-speed service and also would create a state Office on Broadband Access to coordinate with local governments, public and private entities and utilities to develop broadband deployment strategies.

For example, rural port districts would be allowed to offer broadband service.

Between this bill and 9th District Rep. Mary Dye’s efforts (House Bill 2664, which passed the House and is now in the Senate) I hope this session produces important progress toward helping rural folks get “connected” like never before.

Plowing local fairground proceeds
 back into Fair Fund

I was glad to see unanimous Senate support for an idea from Senator Judy Warnick of Moses Lake that would direct the sales-tax revenue from fairgrounds activities into the state’s Fair Fund rather than the general fund.

It’s frustrating when the Fair Fund gets caught up in political games, and Senate Bill 6386 should help reduce that possibility.

Save the date:
 Steptoe Butte/Battlefield meetings Feb. 26, 27

To me Washington’s state parks have no equal when it comes to recreational opportunities in our state, because they offer something for people of all ages and abilities.

The state parks in our 9th Legislative District are among the real jewels, too, which is why I worked to get money into the new capital budget for important upgrades and maintenance at three of them (Steptoe Butte, Palouse Falls and Fields Spring).

As a supporter of our parks, I encourage you to take part in one of two meetings the state-parks agency has scheduled to discuss long-term plans for the parks at Steptoe Butte and Steptoe Battlefield.

One goes from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Whitman County Library in Colfax; the next is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Rosalia Elementary and High School.

 

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