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

Legislative Commentary

 

October 11, 2018



Dear Friends,

Let me start with a salute to the WSU graduate who was awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award for valor, at the White House on Oct. 1.

Ronald Shurer II, from Puyallup, earned his degree in 2001 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in Spokane in September 2002. He became a Secret Service agent in 2009 after his honorable discharge from the Army and lives in Virginia with his wife and children. I’d like to see our Legislature formally recognize his service to our nation, as we have for other Medal of Honor recipients from Washington.

Speaking of WSU, I enjoyed traveling with Ritzville neighbors Dan and Dolly Blankenship down to Pullman this past weekend for the university’s Homecoming celebration and the Cougars’ football win against Utah. It was great to say hello to two WSU Athletic Hall of Fame members: football and track great Don Ellingsen, visiting from Spokane with his wife Lani, and legendary quarterback Jack Thompson. I also talked with WSU President Kirk Schulz for the second time in a week – he had been up to Ritzville on Sept. 26, as part of the much-appreciated effort WSU makes to communicate with state legislators.

And while we’re on the subject of Cougar football, the state Department of Transportation has announced when it plans to close a stretch of State Route 26 to allow repairs to the railroad bridge east of Othello and north of Hatton: Monday, Oct. 15 through Nov. 22, which is Thanksgiving this year. That means the closure will affect traffic when Oregon, California and Arizona all come to play at Martin Stadium. Cougar Nation members from the west who would normally take S.R. 26 all the way to Colfax will be officially detoured through Connell using state routes 17, 260 and U.S. 395, adding about 15 minutes to the trip to Pullman; an alternative is to stay on Interstate 90 eastbound through Ritzville, then head south on State Route 261 and pick up S.R. 26 at Washtucna.

Latest revenue forecast raises an idea: Why not lower the state sales tax?

State government’s third-quarter revenue forecast for 2018 came out Sept. 26, and it’s another positive one, as expected. The September 2017 forecast projected $44 billion in revenue for the budget cycle we’re in (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2019). A year later, for the same period, the projection is up to $45.6 billion.

With so much tax revenue coming in thanks to strong economic activity (helped by federal tax cuts), and the prospect of additional tax revenue from online sales by out-of-state companies (via the Marketplace Fairness Act), the Washington Policy Center’s director for government reform had a suggestion: start talking about a sales-tax cut! The state portion of the sales tax is 6.5% (since 1982); trimming it to 6.25%, for example, would allow taxpayers to collectively keep an estimated $851 million over the next budget cycle.

I am always open to looking at tax relief, but our colleagues across the political aisle refused to join us in supporting a property-tax cut earlier this year. I suspect a proposal to lower the sales tax would have an equally tough time winning approval in 2019. But as our Senate Republican budget leader put it, part of maintaining trust with taxpayers means recognizing when state government has enough to cover necessary spending. If the liberal side of the Legislature can’t recognize that, then at least use the additional revenue in ways that will have long-term benefits. More money in reserve and more money to pay down public-pension obligations are good examples. What we don’t need is a further expansion of government.

New approach to funding school maintenance is worth considering

I received an e-mail recently from a school superintendent in western Washington about a school building with a leaky roof. As a member of the Senate budget committee, but also as a taxpayer in a school district that is undertaking a major modernization of its high school, I got to thinking about how districts handle the maintenance of facilities once they are built or remodeled.

There are the ongoing maintenance chores that are predictable, but what about repairing or replacing something that for whatever reason gives out even before it is paid off (meaning the voter-approved bonds that built it)? Depending on how a district manages its finances, there may be cash on hand to make the necessary fixes – but at the same time, the auditors who periodically come from Olympia to look at the district books may not want to see a bunch of cash set aside “just in case.”

As I work on ideas to bring up for the 2019 legislative session, this may make the list: a policy change allowing schools to have a “depreciation account” or something that resembles a rainy-day fund. That doesn’t mean changes to the traditional bond-based method of paying for capital projects but a new approach that could put districts in a better position to handle significant maintenance needs using other dollars.

Snake River dams make initial list of orca task force recommendations

I’ve mentioned how the activists who want to tear down (or breach) the Snake River dams in our state have influenced the governor’s orca task force, which owes a formal report to the Legislature later this year. Last week the group put a “draft report and potential recommendations” out for public comment, and sure enough, “the possible future removal of the four Lower Snake River dams” was still on the list.

The task force is taking comments through midnight Sunday (Oct. 7) for consideration at its October meeting. Comments should be submitted online at this link; together with Senator Sharon Brown of Kennewick and Senator Judy Warnick of Moses Lake, I offered a letter that details the value of the Snake River dams and strongly opposes the idea of allowing their proposed removal to become a final recommendation from the group.

An updated set of draft recommendations will go out for a week of public comment, from Oct. 24-29. The final recommendations will be announced Nov. 16.

 

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