Dear friends and neighbors,
Special sessions have become the norm in Olympia, and we are currently making our way through our second special session this year. However, a couple of things to remember: If we are protecting taxpayer dollars then the extra sessions are worth it. And, the past few special sessions have produced strong, bipartisan operating budgets. That provides us reason to be optimistic.
The K-12 education negotiators are making progress. They have a monumental task of reaching agreement on the many fine details of an education funding plan. It is a tough and lengthy process. House Democrats and Senate Republican unveiled their respective plans during the regular session. It is likely the final agreed upon plan will look like neither of those plans. House Republicans have also been instrumental in the negotiations. Every step of the way we continue to ask: How would this affect our students, school districts and taxpayers? We hope to have more details to share in the next couple of weeks.
I have spent a lot of time in Olympia during the special sessions. As the lead legislator for the House Republicans on early learning, I am negotiating the early learning portion of the budget with the other early learning leaders and budget writers from the four caucuses.
Reps. Dent and Manweller with Kittitas High School students.
Governor says no capital gains income or business and occupation tax
Once the education piece is agreed upon or finalized, the remainder of the operating budget should fall into place. Without the education part done, it is difficult to finalize an overall spending plan.
The governor did recently give us some good news. He said a capital gains income tax was off the table as well as taxes on business. I do not believe the majority party in the House has the votes, and tax increases are not needed to meet our budget priorities.
Remember, we are expected to see more than a 13 percent increase in tax revenues. These are taxpayer dollars. We should be able to fully fund education and balance a budget without any tax increases. We should also know more about our incoming revenue after the next revenue forecast is presented on June 20.
The bad news is the governor did suggest ideas such as an internet sales tax, adjusting the real estate excise tax, closing tax exemptions and even floated the idea of a carbon tax again. I would question whether or not they have the votes for any of those taxes as well. Again, revenue coming in is at record levels, so not only may the votes not be there, but it is hard to justify a need for raising any taxes.
Rep. Dent (third from left) and friends getting ready for a parade in Ephrata.
Hirst court decision
Legislators continue to work on a negotiated deal for Hirst. You may recall the Hirst decision is the state Supreme Court ruling from last October that jeopardizes development in rural Washington. The court determined domestic wells could potentially harm water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act and, therefore, may not qualify for a permit exemption. This has huge ramifications statewide, but particularly in our rural areas and communities. No wells means no development, and there is no value to land without water.
I believe Hirst is the single most important issue we are facing right now. Water is critical to the entire state, but it is truly the lifeblood of our rural areas and communities. There is speculation the governor would veto any solution passed by the Legislature. In order to prevent a veto, a capital budget may not be passed until the governor has signed a fix to the Hirst court ruling. Not fixing this issue could also jeopardize the education plan as well, due to huge tax shifts that would occur as property is devalued because of no water.
The state capital budget, is separate from our operating budget. It is often referred to as the “bricks and mortar” budget, and includes stewardship projects protecting our waterways and environment, as well as working with local governments and non-profits on infrastructure and long-term investments.
Governor signs more bills into law
In my last email update, I mentioned the governor was expected to sign four more of my bills that have passed the Legislature. He has since signed those bills.
House Bill 1353 commissions a pilot project in Kittitas County 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 on Vantage Hill. In April, a woman was injured when she hit two elk on the roadway south of Ellensburg. This legislation couldn't come at a better time. I am pleased we can start working to address this problem.
House Bill 2073 provides the Washington State Beef Commission some clear direction on their priorities and improves the transparency of its financial operation. The Commission's priorities include promotion, research and education related to health and disease control of beef, and promoting increased consumption of beef and beef products.
House Bill 1924 will allow some small forest landowners to get assistance in reducing wildfire risk on their property by exempting them from some of the provisions in the Farm Labor Contractor Act. The current system has not been user-friendly.
House Bill 1819 requires the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to reduce unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork and documentation requirements, allowing agency staff and mental health professionals to spend more time working directly with patients and clients.
Rep. Dent and friends before the Moses Lake Memorial Day parade.
While 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. During the special session I am traveling back and forth to Olympia, negotiating a handful of issues during the special session, while also spending time back in district. I have been able to meet with a number of groups, participate in picnics and parades in Coulee City, Reardan, Ephrata, Wilbur and Moses Lake. I look forward to wrapping up everything in Olympia soon and spend more time in the 13th District.