Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Democrat and Republican budget leaders from the House and Senate continue to meet with the governor, and are edging closer to an agreement that will make historic investments in our schools, improve our mental health system, reduce college tuition, and more. The second special session is scheduled to end June 27, and I'm hopeful an agreement can be reached by then.
While I am frustrated negotiators have needed two special sessions, the one silver lining is the $1.5 billion in proposed tax increases are – for the most part – off the table. It is key to remember the state is bringing in an additional $3.2 billion in revenue for the 2015-17 budget cycle. With that 9.2 percent increase in funds, we can fully fund our obligations while living within our means.
This goal should have already been accomplished in the regular session, which ended in late April. It is now time we finish the work you sent us here to do.
Quincy Chamber “Business After Hours” event
I attended the Quincy Chamber of Commerce's “Business After Hours” event yesterday evening, and had an opportunity to share my thoughts on the legislative session. There were more than 80 people in attendance at the gathering, including Sen. Judy Warnick and Rep. Brad Hawkins. Most of the discussion throughout the evening was centered around the budget negotiations.
Quincy is a very involved community, and the enthusiasm they have for civic engagement is impressive. My family lived in Quincy for a time when I was a young boy, and I always enjoy returning. I am amazed how the community has grown and changed over the years.
Funding for the governor's emergency drought plan
I participated in a call last week with a bipartisan coalition of legislators, as well as officials from the Department of Ecology, regarding funding for Gov. Inslee's emergency drought plan.
Ecology has requested $9 million in drought relief from the Legislature, which would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water right transfers. As I reported earlier this year, 34 of the state's watersheds are projected to have less than 75 percent normal supply.
We will continue to work together to find ways to fund the governor's plan. I believe we will be able to commit the appropriate funds, which is good news, but we need to act quickly to help the communities facing this crisis.
DNR asking for wildfire suppression funding
Because of my 40 years of experience in aviation and aircraft-related activities, I put together a bipartisan legislative caucus to work with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on wildfire solutions in our state.
Last week, we held a meeting with DNR and received a briefing on the overall fire suppression budget. Because of the extreme drought statewide this year, there is potential for a severe wildfire season. The current request is for $10.6 million for the 2015-17 operating budget, which would cover funding for pre-suppression efforts. Specifically, funds would go toward staff, firefighters, training, dispatch systems, prevention, outreach, fire response, and more. The committee is looking at possibly increasing this request by an additional $2 million to put another single engine air tanker on line. We would like to see quicker response times with regard to initial firefighting in order to prevent these fires from growing out of control.
Our goal as a committee is reducing the severity of the fires, and therefore reducing the overall cost to the state to fight them. Last year, Washington state spent more than $89 million on fire suppression efforts.
Overall, the meeting was productive, and we'll continue to have conversations throughout the year on this very important issue.
Meeting with FAA officials in Moses Lake to discuss TRACON
I recently met with FAA officials in Moses Lake about the potential relocation of the Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACON) from the Grant County International Airport to the Spokane International Airport. TRACONs are FAA facilities that house air traffic controllers who use radar displays and radios to guide aircraft approaching and departing airports.
As an active professional pilot, I know one of the primary reasons we have such a great safety record at our airport is because of the close interaction between pilots and controllers. Moving the TRACON could potentially have a negative impact on safety considering the diverse operations at the Grant County International Airport. This is a major concern of mine.
Additionally, Boeing pilots use the Grant County International Airport on a frequent basis. The TRACON is very important to them when testing new airplanes and equipment, as pilots rely heavily on the control tower when they're conducting training and testing missions. Removing the TRACON controllers would negatively impact Boeing's continued operations at the airport, and I worry they could choose to relocate to another airport out of state to conduct test flights.
Air traffic in and around the Moses Lake area is much diversified in size, speed and operating limitations. With such a stellar safety record at our airport, relocating the TRACON is something I'm adamantly opposed to, and will continue to press FAA officials to keep it located at the Grant County International Airport.
Please continue to contact me with any comments, questions or concerns you have regarding the operating budget or any issues in the 13th District. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone numbers are (360) 786-7932 in Olympia and (509) 766-6682 at my district office in Moses Lake. Please feel free to share my email updates with your family, friends and neighbors, and encourage them to subscribe. They can do so by clicking here.
It is an honor to serve as your state representative.