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

Legislative Commentary

 


When Thursday arrived, bringing the official start of summer, I was reminded how at this time a year ago the Legislature was still in session with no firm end in sight.

In fact, June 21 of last year was both the final day of the second overtime session and the first day of the third overtime.

It would be another 30 days before the 2017 session finally fizzled to a halt, in one of the most bizarre ways imaginable: majority Democrats literally walking out of the House chamber so Republicans couldn’t force a vote on the “Hirst fix” legislation.

As Senate majority leader, I was unable to break away when the University of Washington’s annual faculty tour made its stop at my farm last June, because budget negotiations were up against the final deadline.

My good friend Alex McGregor was kind enough to step in, with my farmhand Colby Schell, and host the visitors.

Because this year’s legislative session wrapped up on schedule, I was able to be there in person when the UW contingent arrived; keep reading for more details.

Staying close to home as much as possible between sessions allows more time for family and farming and friends, but like many legislators I serve on policy-related groups that require some travel.

One is the Select Committee on Pension Policy, which keeps watch on the taxpayer-supported retirement systems for public employees; another is the board of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, which conducts non-partisan research on issues, such as mental-health care.

Both met this month west of the Cascades.

Otherwise, my legislative calendar definitely has a local slant, toward places like Pullman, Pasco, Othello and here in Ritzville.

It was nice to get down to Pomeroy for the annual grain growers dinner, and I recently attended another annual event in Lind: the 31st running of the world-famous Lind Combine Demolition Derby.

It’s probably been a good dozen years or more since I last competed, but having been a winner or co-champion several times it’s an event I still enjoy as a spectator.

Telling the story of agriculture

The University of Washington has offered a Faculty Field Tour off and on (mostly on) for at least 20 years, and my farm in Ritzville has been one of the tour stops for several years now.

The bus trip is intended for faculty who are new to Washington and to UW, and is intended to introduce them to people and communities in our state “from Washington’s west side over its towering mountains and through its agricultural heartland.”

Knowing how legislators and staff have benefited from site visits related to public-policy issues, I imagine a road trip like this is very helpful.

Today’s universities tend to have faculty members from around the globe, and the UW group was no different.

I enjoyed the opportunity to spend part of a warm, windy afternoon relating the story of agriculture in Washington. The questions were as diverse as the faculty members, allowing me to discuss advances in conservation, the safe and prudent use of crop protection products and more.

If the 2019 legislative session ends in late April, as scheduled, and the UW tour folks want to drop by again, I’ll be happy to meet the next crop of faculty.

I’ve been taking part in the annual Lind Field Day, at WSU’s dryland research station, for a lot longer than the UW tour bus has been coming to the Schoesler farm.

I always appreciate being able to offer an update on what’s happening in the Legislature, especially as it pertains to agriculture, and talk with other growers.

This year we all met André-Denis Wright, the new dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, who had been on the job only a couple of weeks by then.

The Ant and the Grasshopper,
and state government’s finances

Having three young grandchildren is a good way to get reacquainted with traditional children’s stories.

After state government’s second-quarter revenue forecast was made public this past week, one of those fables came to mind: Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” about the importance of preparing for the future ahead of living in the moment.

Here’s why. The revenue forecast is up $298 million for the current budget cycle (2017-19) and $287 million for the two-year cycle after that. In percentage terms, the total revenue for 2017-19 is on pace to exceed the 2015-17 number by 16 percent. That isn’t just good, double-digit growth like that is amazing.

But there’s the Inslee factor to consider. The Legislature must adopt a new two-year budget next year, and in December the governor has to submit a budget for us to consider, and his budget is based in part on the spending requests from state agencies.

Earlier this month Governor Inslee’s budget director sent instructions to those agencies about preparing their requests, which are due starting in mid-September.

The instructions warned the agencies to “be prepared to manage with minimal or no funding increases.”

But they also went on to refer to how “demand grew for new and expanded programs in other areas” over the past six years, while the Legislature was ramping up spending on public schools.

And, noting that the governor’s office and the state employees’ unions are discussing a new contract, the budget director cautioned that the “extent to which state employee compensation increases will compete for limited resources is unknown.”

If the governor and his Democrat allies in the Legislature were acting like the ants in the children’s story, and saving now for when times are lean, they would not have kept the state’s rainy-day fund from receiving the scheduled $700 million deposit this year.

And they would be looking to hang on to a big chunk of the nearly $300 million in added revenue expected from the June forecast.

But instead, Inslee’s budget office seems to be telling the agencies to keep their wish lists minimal, so the governor has more leeway to fund his personal wish list. That sounds like something the fable’s grasshopper might have done.

 

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