Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Today we are at the halfway point of the 105-day legislative session. Two important deadlines have passed in the Legislature: House policy committee cutoff (Feb. 17) and House fiscal committee cutoff (Feb. 24). We had a lot of committee action the past two weeks to meet the deadlines.
As a result of this committee action, state representatives will consider many bills on the House floor leading up to our next deadline on March 8: House of origin cutoff. This also means a lot of time in caucus discussing legislative issues and deciding how to vote on bills.
House Democrats pass their education bill with no funding source
It took a while, but House Democrats finally passed their education bill off the House floor on Feb. 22 on a party-line vote of 50-47. Once fully implemented, the legislation has a price tag of $11.3 billion. Unfortunately, House Democrats failed to include a funding source for their approach. You can watch a compilation of House Republican speeches here.
Aside from a lack of a funding source, I voted against House Bill 1843 because it does not contain any meaningful education reforms and it does not protect the state from future lawsuits. It would simply pour more money into a regressive education system. We need a solution that focuses on better student outcomes.
I voted for seven amendments on the legislation that focused on issues such as levy reform, K-3 class sizes, career and technical education, accountability and improving failing schools. The House Democrats adopted only one of the amendments.
The good news is that serious negotiations can now begin with the Senate. The Senate Republicans, who passed their One Washington Education Equality Act all the way back on Feb. 1, were waiting for the House Democrats to pass a bill. All four caucuses will be involved in the negotiations and the meetings dates are being set up now. Stay tuned!
Prohibiting a state income tax
We know that the House Democrats want to spend an additional $11.3 billion for education. However, we are left to wonder which taxes they would create or raise. To date, they have proposed a group of tax-increase bills that includes a controversial capital gains income tax. I believe a capital gains tax opens the door to a state income tax. In fact, every state that has a capital gains tax also has a state income tax.
Voters have repeatedly said they do not want a state income tax. Our district voted 65 percent against a state income tax the last time it was on the ballot. Yet, there continues to be a push to create one. Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat, wrote an op-ed in the online publication Crosscut on Jan. 20. The title of his article is, “The monster lurking behind school funding: an income tax,” and he makes the point that the big debate isn't really about education – it's about a state income tax. I believe him.
There is one way to end the possibility of a state income tax once and for all: an amendment to our state constitution. I am a sponsor of House Joint Resolution 4207, which would amend our state constitution to prohibit a state income tax. It has no House Democratic sponsors.
While the House Democrats will not allow this measure to come to the floor for a vote, the Senate companion, Senate Joint Resolution 8204, moved out of the Ways and Means Committee and could come to the Senate floor for a vote.
An environmental 'catastrophe' in Seattle
You may have heard but, if not, a storm on Feb. 9 overwhelmed the West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle. The plant flooded, resulting in equipment and electric motors being destroyed and critical systems failing. This failure resulted in hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated stormwater and raw sewage being dumped into Puget Sound. This article includes a video of what appears to be sewage churning in Elliott Bay.
If that wasn't bad enough, the problems still aren't fixed and may not be for weeks. This plant is only operating at half capacity and repairs could cost more than $25 million. As King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski put it, “It's an environmental catastrophe every day it is not up and running.” He's right.
Officials still don't know the source of the problem. This is troubling. We need to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again. There also needs to be accountability.
Sadly, this wasn't the only Seattle wastewater treatment facility to fail last month. A pump station in West Seattle also had problems and discharged an estimated 330,000 gallons of untreated storm water and raw sewage into Puget Sound on Feb. 16.
The mass scale of this environmental catastrophe really puts things in perspective for me. I think of all the scrutiny and adverse actions our local farmers and landowners must endure from state regulators on things that are relatively minor compared to what we're seeing in Seattle today. In most of these cases, our local folks are trying to do the right thing and truly care about our environment and sustainability.
As session progresses, I encourage you to stay in touch with my office. Your feedback is important to me.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you!
Luanne Van Werven