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The Legislature began a 30-day special session on Monday, April 24. Budget negotiators in the House and Senate continue to work on a final two-year operating budget.
Some legislators would like to see state spending increased by 34 percent over four years, which would include $8 billion in new or increased taxes. That would increase our budget to more than $51 billion by 2019-21. As you can see by the chart below, it is not sustainable.
To address the education-funding McCleary court decision, both Democrats and Republicans want to increase K-12 education funding significantly. However, how to pay for it and reforming the levy system are the two main issues at the center of the debate. Some believe we need to raise taxes to fund education instead of using existing revenues. Our current tax revenues are up by more than 13 percent over the last biennium.
The other issue being worked on by negotiators is how much do we need to reform the current levy system. Reliance on local levy dollars is what put the state in the position we are in now. A final plan must not rely on local dollars or we could find ourselves in a McCleary 2.0 situation. The court has indicated relying on local levy dollars is part of why the state finds itself in an education- funding lawsuit.
While it is difficult to know what the final education-funding plan and operating budget may look like, past special sessions have produced strong, bipartisan operating budgets and great results for Washington state. We should be optimistic about the outcomes ahead.
The other critical issue that remains unresolved is a solution on the Hirst decision. This is the state Supreme Court ruling from October where the court ruled Whatcom County’s comprehensive plan failed to provide for protection of water resources in compliance with the Growth Management Act.
While the court case originated in Whatcom County, this is a huge issue that will affect everyone. The court ruling put the status of exempt private wells into question, jeopardizing development in rural areas and communities across Washington. Urban areas should be just as concerned. With what basically amounts to a moratorium on construction and development, property values will decline and urban area property owners will end up picking up the bill.
In the 13th District, we are well aware of the importance of water and who controls it. We must have a solution before we adjourn.
Sen. Judy Warnick has a piece of legislation that would address the Hirst problem, Senate Bill 5239. The Senate passed it during the regular session, but the House did not take action on it. The Senate took action again just this Tuesday, passing the bill to the House a second time. The House Republican Caucus is anxious to keep this bill moving and get it, or a strong version of it, through the legislative process.
Rep. Dent and colleagues on the House floor.
Governor signs bills
I have been visiting the governor’s office quite a bit lately. He has signed a few of my bills and will be signing four more. I have worked hard to get my bills through the legislative process, but you need the support of your colleagues in both chambers and parties. I feel very fortunate and humbled to get seven bills to the governor’s desk this session.
The governor has signed three bills:
House Bill 1400 – creates specialty aviation license plates. Those who want to show their support for the aviation industry will be able to get their plates in late July.
House Bill 1018 – increases the maximum grant amounts from $250,000 to $750,000 for general aviation projects provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). It has been 35 years since the grant amount has changed.
Senate Bill 5261/House Bill 1578 – Sen. Warnick and I had identical bills and both made it through the legislative process. The governor signed her version of the bill. The important part is, we got the bill passed. It is a pro-energy, pro-jobs bill that enables irrigation districts to enter into public-private partnerships for new energy infrastructure, including hydroelectric projects. Allowing the partnerships will allow for the creation of thousands of family-wage construction jobs in our region, and additional permanent jobs once power is added onto the grid with the hydro projects.
The governor signs the irrigation district authority bill.
The governor is expected to sign four more of my bills that have passed the Legislature and are on his desk.
House Bill 1353 – commissions a pilot project that would work to reduce highway collisions with elk. We have elk in farmer’s yards, hay barns, and crossing I-90, which is a huge public safety problem. About 60 elk were killed last year. I am pleased we can start working to address this dangerous situation.
House Bill 2073 – adds some more accountability and oversight to the Washington State Beef Commission’s finances. It also prioritizes the commission’s responsibilities – promotion, research and education related to health and disease control of beef, and promoting increased consumption of beef and beef products.
Rep. Dent enjoying the Washington Cattlemen’s Association Beef Day in Olympia.
House Bill 1924 – exempts small forest landowners from some of the provisions in the Farm Labor Contractor Act. The current system has not been user-friendly. This legislation eliminates some of the bureaucracy and assists small forest landowners in reducing wildfire risk on their property.
House Bill 1819 – requires the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to review its rules, policies and procedures to reduce documentation and paperwork requirements for behavioral health services, so the department can cut down on bureaucracy and staff and mental health professionals can spend more time working directly with patients and clients.
House Bill 1656 – would establish a community aviation revitalization loan program. This bill passed the House 95-2 during the legislative session, but did not make it out of the Senate before the regular session ended. Sen. Jim Honeyford has a similar piece of legislation, Senate Bill 5328. We are working together to combine the two bills and possibly get an amended version of SB 5328 passed during the special session. Funding is needed for capital and preservation projects at public-use airports. The legislation would establish a loan program and a task force to oversee and provide consultation of the program.
Rep. Dent with members of the Fostering Change for Washington organization.
The Spirit of June Leonard Award
I was recently surprised at an event at the governor’s mansion where I was presented the “Spirit of June Leonard Award” for my work on early learning and children’s issues. I am deeply humbled.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, a champion for children’s issues herself and a former recipient of the award, presented me with the award. I have great enthusiasm and a place in my heart for our young people. In the Legislature, we are working on strengthening programs, such as foster care, children’s mental health and childcare. We want our youth to have a solid foundation that will give them the opportunity to succeed in the future.
Rep. Kagi presents the “Spirit of June Leonard Award” to Rep. Dent.
Radio shows and soundtracks
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be on the Lars Larson Show. We discussed the Hirst decision and the importance of water. I truly believe it is the most important issue we need to address in this special session.
I had the opportunity to be on many radio programs during the legislative session. We also sent out a Capitol Report – a 3-minute segment on the week’s hot topics – to local radio stations each week. You can find my end-of-session interview with Glen Vaagen on the Washington Ag Network by clicking here. You can find many of my radio interviews and Capitol Report recordings here.
While our legislative interim is on hold since we are in a special session, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments about legislation or state issues.
I represent you year round and will be busy around the 13th District – touring classrooms, meeting with local officials, speaking to groups and organizations. If you have a legislative issue or an idea, please contact my office to set up a meeting.
It is an honor to serve as your representative.
13th Legislative District
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7932 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000