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

By State Senator Mark Schoesler
Ninth District 

Legislative Commentary: April 11, 2019

 

Last updated 4/11/2019 at 11:11am



Dear Friends,

One of the many flaws in the 2019-21 budget proposed a week ago by the Senate’s Democrat majority was that it lacked new funding to allow 20 more students at WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane. When the budget came to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, I offered an amendment to fix that. It was rejected. Yesterday, when the budget came before the full Senate for a vote, Senator Jeff Holy from the neighboring 6th District – a proud Cougar graduate – offered the same amendment. It was rejected again.

It’s hard enough to understand how the funding request ($3.6 million) got left out of the Senate budget in the first place, considering this expansion has been expected all along – and state government has billions in unexpected revenue available for smart investments (like more Cougar-trained physicians). On top of that, the WSU medical school is located in the district represented by Senator Andy Billig, who happens to be Senate majority leader, not to mention a member of the budget committee. How the leader failed to get enough of his fellow Democrats to support such a no-brainer of an amendment, not once but twice, is beyond me.

The funding isn’t in the House budget either. That needs to change during negotiations between the Senate and House in the coming weeks on a final budget. Unbelievably, as the Spokesman-Review reports here, the Democrat budget leader basically said (when asking for a “no” vote on Senator Holy’s amendment) it might take the approval of more taxes to pay for the 20 slots.

Now that we’re in the budget phase of the session, there were a lot of long hours in the Ways and Means committee. Tuesday’s afternoon meeting to consider the budget dragged on until 1:30 the next morning. That meant less time for guests, but we worked in visits by the school superintendents from Deer Park and East Valley (Spokane), leaders from Greater Spokane Incorporated, and Avista Corporation president Dennis Vermillion.

Thankfully, nothing got in the way of our first Benton-Franklin telephone town hall Wednesday evening. As the three senators serving the two counties, Senator Sharon Brown of Kennewick, Senator Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla and I were interested in how a combined town hall would work -- and it did, with a good turnout (around 600 people at the peak) and questions that were even better. We might have to have another one sometime!

Great news for travelers from (and in) Cougar Nation!

The 2015 “Connecting Washington” package of transportation projects included vital safety improvements for U.S. Highway 195 north of Colfax and State Route 26 west of Colfax – roads that are well-known to (and heavily traveled by) members of Cougar Nation.

The U.S. 195 passing-lane construction got going in 2017, but ever since we approved the Connecting Washington legislation, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to accelerate the SR 26 projects. Yesterday it happened, through the new 2019-21 transportation budget adopted by the Senate.

If the House agrees, we might be able to get construction of those “climbing lanes” between Colfax and Dusty started as soon as next year. That would be five years ahead of the original schedule (climbing lanes are the uphill version of passing lanes).

Senate adopts budget that still contains unnecessary tax increases, poor spending choices

My previous commentary mentioned that I was pleasantly surprised by the Senate budget proposal when it was unveiled a week ago – but that was at first glance, as I had yet to dig into the details. The closer I looked, the less pleasant things got.

For example, the Senate budget adds $3.5 million to the State Patrol budget, to pay for additional security costs the WSP expects to incur for protecting the governor while he runs for president. That item came in for a lot of criticism during our telephone town hall Wednesday evening, and deservedly so.

The budget also supports a 39-percent increase in the governor’s office budget, and a $750,000 appropriation to study issues associated with breaching the four lower Snake River dams. There’s even $1.4 million to increase the breakfast offerings for state inmates.

Are these big expenses inside of a $53 billion budget? No, but they also aren’t the only examples of spending that range from needless to downright offensive. After a while it adds up, and it doesn’t have to be a big expense to be a poor use of taxpayer dollars.

I offered six amendments yesterday before the final budget vote. They included one to take the $750,000 for the Snake River dam study and divert it to increasing hatchery production of salmon in the Columbia River system. I also proposed lowering the budget increase for the governor’s office to 9 percent, which would match the budget increase for higher education. And I thought the money for tastier inmate breakfasts could be better invested in the Meals on Wheels program that assists our seniors. All my suggestions and most of the other Republican amendments were rejected.

The budget adopted yesterday in the Senate chamber is less destructive than the budget adopted by the House, in that it doesn’t rely on an income tax or a higher B&O tax to balance. However, the Senate majority still wants higher taxes on real estate (like the House) and insurance premiums, totaling more than a billion dollars.

When it’s possible to increase spending by 14% without new taxes, how do the Senate Democrats justify calling for more taxes so spending can increase by 17%? In my mind, they can’t. After a budget debate that was starting to approach five hours in length, I voted no on final passage.

 

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