Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After three special sessions, the Legislature adjourned on July 20. Unfortunately, in the third special session, House Democratic leadership would not bring permanent water rights protections for property owners to the floor for a vote. This inability to fix the state Supreme Court's Hirst Decision prevented the Legislature from adopting a capital budget. It frustrates me greatly that so much time was spent in Olympia this year and yet our business remains unfinished.
Despite these frustrations, there were many significant bipartisan strides made during the 2017 legislative session. Democrats and Republicans negotiated and compromised to adopt an operating budget and a transportation budget that will continue making the 25th District a better place to live, work and raise a family.
I've compiled some highlights of the 2017 session below that I hope you find informative.
The operating budget
The operating budget keeps Washington state open for business and running efficiently. After long negotiations, the 2017-19 operating budget was adopted with Democratic and Republican support.
This $43.7 billion spending plan pays for public schools, police officers, and dozens of programs to help children, families, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
Highlights of the operating budget include:
- Investments in public safety, including additional Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) classes;
- Reforms to our foster care system to protect children and address the ongoing foster parent shortage;
- Crucial investments in mental health services, providing increased access to walk-in crisis centers, more beds and staff;
- A new Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) to reduce internal bureaucracy and offer faster services to Washington youth and families;
- Investments in homelessness relief, assisting individuals with a history of mental illness and providing housing opportunities for homeless youth;
- Significant rate increases for childcare providers, many of which are paid well below market value; and
- Increases in funding for the State Need Grant program, helping low-income students and families pursue higher education.
Unfortunately, the governor vetoed a bipartisan provision of the budget to extend a business and occupation tax incentive to manufacturing companies, which provide thousands of jobs in our state. This tax incentive would have spurred job creation and helped our economy continue to grow. The governor's choice to disregard many bipartisan negotiations and ultimately undermine the legislative process was deeply disappointing. I hope I'll be given the opportunity to vote to override his veto next session.
Included in the 2017 operating budget is $7.3 billion in funding for public schools. This means for the first time since the early 1980s, more than 50 percent of the operating budget will be dedicated to K-12 education.
These historic funding increases accompany important reforms to the statewide property tax so the poorest school districts in our state can begin to see property tax relief.
In the 25th District, many families in our area will see their property tax payments decrease, beginning in 2019.
The transportation budget
The 2017-19 transportation budget was also adopted with bipartisan support. It will send $55.7 million to the 25th District over the next five years to provide smoother roads, safer bridges and reduce traffic congestion.
- Replacement of the Puyallup River Bridge on SR 167;
- Ongoing replacements and widening of SR 167 from Tacoma to Puyallup;
- Updates to the SR 99/I-5 interchange in Fife; and
- Safety improvements to the SR 161 Pierce County corridor.
In addition to funding numerous local projects, the bipartisan transportation budget will help recruit and retain highly qualified state troopers, study and repair structurally deficient bridges, and fund continued operation of ferries, fish passage barrier removal, and other Connecting Washington projects.
Sound Transit 3
Last November, Pierce County voters overwhelmingly rejected ST3 – the public transportation expansion requiring massive increases in car tabs, property tax and sales tax.
In typical fashion, our voices were drowned out by Seattle and King County voters when ST3 passed.
This year, I spoke with many of you about the skyrocketing cost increase you experienced when renewing your car tabs. For most of us, owning a car is not a luxury – it is a critical aspect of everyday life. As if these absurd increases weren't enough, many taxpayers in Pierce County will never see the completion of this project in their lifetime.
I worked tirelessly this year to push for critical reforms of ST3 and the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) – the board that issues ST3 taxes and fees. The most important pieces of legislation I supported include:
- HB 2166 – Increasing local control by allowing cities to opt out of ST3 taxes if approved by either the city legislative authority or a vote of the people;
- HB 2132 – Making Kelley Blue Book the standard method for assessing a car's value;
- HB 1029 – Increasing transparency and accountability of the RTA by requiring members be elected rather than appointed; and
- HB 1958 – Prohibiting RTA property taxes on less than a whole parcel of land.
Unfortunately, these commonsense bills were blocked by Democratic leadership in the House. The fact remains – Pierce County voters soundly rejected ST3, and therefore should not be responsible for funding new Seattle projects. In the coming session, I'm committed to re-affirming my support for these bills and ensuring the voices of Pierce County taxpayers are heard.
Hirst, water rights and the capital budget
Last fall, the Washington state Supreme Court issued the “Hirst Decision” – a ruling with profoundly devastating impacts on homeowners all across Washington state.
Under Hirst, property owners who cannot hook up to city water and wish to drill a new well must now pay for a study – often costing thousands of dollars – to prove no fish will be harmed, even when there is no evidence of a problem. Many counties in Washington state do not have the resources to process these studies and therefore have stopped issuing permits.
To make matters worse, some creditors have stopped offering or honoring loans to develop property with a recently drilled well. Ironically, Seattle will be adding approximately 12,000 new condominiums this year and none will be required to obtain special permits for their water.
A legislative fix is necessary to protect property values and help families have access to clean water.
Senate Bill 5239 offered a permanent solution to Hirst this year. The Senate passed it four times during the session, but House Democrats refused to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. Instead, they were only willing to negotiate a two-year, temporary fix – an unrealistic solution as many creditors would have still refused to lend.
For these reasons, the Legislature was not able to adopt a 2017-19 capital budget. Although I voted in favor of the $4 billion statewide construction budget on July 1, I stand firmly by the decision not to adopt the budget without a permanent Hirst fix.
Why should the government be allowed to continue building with taxpayer dollars when many working families would be unable to obtain similar permits for their own homes?
I truly hope the Democratic majority in the House will see the urgency in finding a permanent solution to Hirst so we may also adopt a capital budget.
As the year draws to a close, I'll begin preparing for the 2018 session. Although we accomplished much this year, there is a great deal left to do.
Please contact me with questions you may have or suggestions for bills in the upcoming year. You may reach me at (360)786-7968 or via email at Joyce.McDonald@leg.wa.gov.
As always, it is an honor to serve you.