Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After the longest legislative session in state history, which required three special sessions and 193 days, the Legislature finally adjourned last Thursday. While we passed an operating budget on June 30, the final 20 days of session were spent trying to reach an agreement on a bill to fix the state Supreme Court's disastrous Hirst decision. I talked about Hirst in my last email update, but to recap, the 2016 court ruling put the status of exempt private wells into question in every county in the state, jeopardizing development and potentially causing hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses for rural landowners. While the Senate passed a bipartisan Hirst fix bill four separate times this session, House Democrats refused to bring a single fix bill to the floor for a vote.
Senate Republicans, to their great credit, stood up for rural landowners every step of the way. They made it clear that without a Hirst fix, there would be no capital budget for the first time in state history. After all, it would be unconscionable to give the green light to build projects around our state while simultaneously denying families access to water on their undeveloped private property. House Democrats had every opportunity to make a deal happen that would've benefited all Washingtonians. Their failure to think of the needs of residents outside of the Seattle area was disappointing. I like my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and work closely with many of them on important issues, but it has to be said this was not their finest moment. It was an unfortunate way for the session to end.
Moving beyond Hirst, I want to talk a little bit about why I voted against the 2017-19 operating budget and a large education funding bill, House Bill 2242. While the budget makes many critical investments, including an additional $7.3 billion for K-12 education over the next four years, I could not support a plan that grows state spending a whopping 14 percent in the 2017-19 biennium and another 14 percent in the 2019-21 biennium.
Below is a chart of state spending since the 1995-97 biennium.
In addition, despite nearly $3 billion in revenue growth compared to the 2015-17 biennium, the budget relies on large tax increases and budget gimmicks in order to increase spending to an unsustainable level. In my view, it's simply irresponsible to not plan ahead for an eventual downturn in the economy. I'm not predicting that will happen anytime soon, but it's important that we be prepared for it. Throwing caution to the wind is a mistake.
House Bill 2242, which is funded through the operating budget, is designed to satisfy the McCleary court order by ending the state's overreliance on local levies to fund basic education, while also fully funding our schools. While I believe it will achieve both of these goals and create equity for students, teachers and taxpayers, I could not support it due to the large increase in property taxes so many of you will see from its implementation.
Due to current maintenance and operation levy rates remaining in effect through next year, every district in the state will see increased property taxes before a new school levy cap is enacted in 2019 — set at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. However, even after that cap is enacted, only those in the Spokane and West Valley school districts will see a net decrease in property taxes.
Here is a breakdown of how the policy change will affect taxpayers in each of our school districts:
|School District||CY 2018||CY 2019||CY 2020||CY 2021|
Let's use the Central Valley School District (CVSD) as an example in the above chart. Note the average taxpayer in the CVSD will see a property tax increase of $170 in the phase-in year of 2018. They will then see property tax reductions of $70 and $10 in CY 2019 and CY 2020 before another $20 increase hits in 2021. All in all, property taxes for the average taxpayer in the school district will likely increase $110 from CY 2018 to CY 2021 due to this new policy.
In terms of the increase in funding school districts in the 4th will see as a result of this policy change, take a look at the chart below:
|School District||SY 2017-18||SY 2018-19||SY 2019-20||SY 2020-21|
As you can see, all but one of our school districts will be receiving more money under this new policy from SY 2017-18 to SY 2020-21. While the East Valley School District is an outlier, the district will still receive what it would've gotten under the current policy. In sum, no district will see a cut in their funding, while the majority of school districts will see a large increase in funding.
An update on my school siting bill
When the governor partially vetoed my school siting bill earlier this year, I wasn't sure if there would be enough time left in the session to introduce and pass a revised bill. However, thanks to the strong dedication of so many people, we were able to introduce a new bill in late June that passed the House and Senate and was signed into law on July 7. House Bill 2243 includes the original fix proposed in House Bill 1017, and adds accountability measures that will allow the state to track the progress of how many schools are being built and how many students are being served.
I'm truly grateful for the tireless bipartisan work that has gone into this issue. This is the right policy for our state, and I could not be more pleased that school districts will finally be allowed to work with local authorities to build schools outside of designated urban growth areas starting in October.
If you have any questions about Hirst, HB 2242 or the operating budget, please don't hesitate to send me an email or call my office at (360) 786-7820. I would also be happy to meet with you in district. In fact, I'm working with Rep. Shea and Sen. Padden to set up a number of forums this interim where we can meet with you and answer your questions. More information on those will be forthcoming.
It is an honor to serve as your state representative.