42nd District representatives review the 2018 legislative session
The Legislature adjourned on March 8. It is great to be back in beautiful Whatcom County. Since being home, we have had opportunities to meet with constituents and local groups about the legislative session. We also wanted to share our thoughts with those we have not had an opportunity to connect with thus far. Here is a brief overview of the hits and misses of the 2018 legislative session.
A Hirst fix
We passed one of the most important pieces of legislation – a solution to the state Supreme Court Hirst decision – during the second week of the session.
While the Hirst fix approved by lawmakers in January is not perfect, it addresses many of the concerns we had in our own backyard. It provides some certainty pertaining to our state's water law. It grandfathers in existing wells. It also removes the burden the court put on counties to find their own legal water.
Perhaps the most important outcome was this: Soon after the bill was signed into law, Whatcom County began issuing permits, allowing property owners throughout the county to drill wells and build on their land again.
Funding for local projects
The passage of a Hirst solution allowed us to move forward with the capital budget. You, the taxpayers, send many tax dollars to Olympia and we work hard to return some of those tax dollars back to our communities.
We secured $1.2 million for the East Blaine utility extension project. This will go toward water, sewer and electrical infrastructure to assist with the construction of much-needed mixed-use housing in the East Blaine area. We also secured funding for the following projects:
- Whatcom Community College Learning Commons;
- Lynden's Pepin Creek realignment project;
- Ferndale Pioneer Park ADA walkway;
- The Agricultural Center at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds;
- Toxic cleanups at Whatcom Waterways in Bellingham;
- Bellingham Mental Health Triage Center;
- Unity Care NW North Whatcom County Health Center in Ferndale;
- Sylvia Center for the Arts;
- Bellingham Acute Detox Center; and
- The North Sound Behavioral Health Organization.
We were also successful in obtaining funds in the transportation budget to pave the way for a bike and pedestrian trail in Kendall to connect local neighborhoods with the Kendall Elementary School, library, churches, and the regional resource center. It is important we provide students a safe pathway given the tragedy we have seen on this route.
No new taxes
Despite efforts from the governor and the majority party, calls for a carbon tax and a capital gains income tax failed this session.
Simply put, these taxes are unnecessary. Recent forecasts show revenue will increase $2.3 billion over four years. And these proposals would have hit hardest those who could least afford it. The governor's carbon tax proposal would have increased the energy costs to heat our homes, raised the gas tax, and grocery prices would have risen with transportation costs. As far as a capital gains tax – really, an income tax – goes, Washington voters have rejected a statewide income tax proposal 10 times.
No property tax relief this year
The biggest disappointment of the session was failure to provide meaningful property tax relief. We introduced House Bill 2434 at the beginning of the legislative session that would have frozen property taxes at 2017 levels. This could have been done using existing funds and without raising taxes, but the majority party did not allow a hearing.
The Legislature's education-funding plan that passed last year substantially increases the state's investment in K-12 education and ends a local levy system that for too long created inequities in our schools. However, the timing of the state and local property tax changes are hitting some taxpayers hard this year, even though our schools are benefitting from the plan. Once it is fully implemented, property tax rates should go down again.
Major spending increases
We could not support the state operating budget this year. It added another $1.2 billion in a supplemental year, while diverting more than $700 million from our rainy day fund, a move our state treasurer found troubling. Spending is up 16 percent over the last biennium and that is simply not sustainable.
With one-party control in the Legislature, Republicans were also left out of the budget negotiations.
There were many more highs and lows to the legislative session. Please know we are available to speak to groups to provide legislative updates or just answer any questions you may have about state government. We are honored to represent the great people of Whatcom County.
Reps. Vincent Buys and Luanne Van Werven represent the 42nd Legislative District. Buys serves as the ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and is a member of the House Appropriations and Environment committees. Van Werven serves as the assistant ranking member on the House Higher Education Committee, and is a member of the House Transportation and Public Safety committees.