A session like none I’ve seen
This is the first time in 10 years that I have not left the Capitol at the end of a legislative session feeling pride in the Senate’s work.
I know that sounds harsh. We did have some successes this year — individual successes I am proud of. Fixing the Hirst water-rights issue so that rural families can build on their land, along with passing the capital budget, are the most significant achievements.
For me personally, I’m also happy that my telemedicine bills will become law and expand your access to health care.
That said, this session has seen its share of bad legislation. It’s also been marked by poor management in a hasty effort to pass as many bills during the 60-day short session as possible. When considering new laws, quantity does not equal quality. The legislative process has suffered and we’ve been asked to vote on key legislation without a hearing, with sloppy paperwork and with little-to-no information on fiscal impact.
Even worse, several of the pieces of legislation the Majority is claiming as a victory present constitutional issues and invite lawsuits that could cost you, the taxpayers, millions.
One example is the fight over property tax relief and the state’s savings account, known as the ‘Rainy Day Fund.’
You will hear in the press that Republicans voted against property-tax relief. The truth is that we offered five bills and amendments that would have given you 100 percent relief on the one-year property-tax increase that resulted from the adjustments to fund education. Each time, they voted it down.
Instead, the Majority passed a bill that only gives you 30 cents per $1,000 back. Yes, they repeatedly rejected full relief for you in favor of a 30-cent tax cut and they call it a victory.
I’m more than disappointed by this. We have a $2.3 billion surplus in our budget. There was no reason NOT to give you full relief. In fact, Republicans proposed a budget that clearly demonstrated we can provide $1 billion in property-tax relief, protect our investments in public education, improve mental-health treatment and reduce tuition.
Also, the budget pushed by the Majority defies the Washington State Constitution. An amendment to the constitution requires that a certain percentage of new revenue, such as the $2.3 billion surplus, be deposited into the Budget Stabilization Account, or ‘Rainy Day Fund.’ The money in this account is reserved ONLY for protecting us in the event of an economic downturn or for recovering from a natural disaster such as wildfires or earthquakes. Also, it requires a vote of 60 percent of the Legislature to withdraw from the account.
The Majority’s budget diverts $700 million from going into the ‘Rainy Day Fund,’ circumventing the 60-percent vote requirement, and it doesn’t use it for either of the expenditures for which it is intended. Washington State Treasurer Duane Davidson issued a statement cautioning the Legislature on this gimmick and warning us of the potential consequences of setting such a dangerous precedent.
Our budget maximized that $2.3 billion without hijacking the money that is constitutionally required to go to the ‘Rainy Day Fund.’
Another constitutional issue arose on the last day of session. The Majority passed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 3003, which would amend a future initiative. This means that an effort by the people to create law through the citizen-initiative process would be changed by the Legislature BEFORE it ever happens. That’s like telling the voters that what they want does not matter at all. No matter the issue, this is wrong. If the Legislature feels an initiative needs to be amended AFTER it’s passed, it can vote to do that. But doing so before citizens even mount the effort to pass the initiative is unconstitutional.
Even Attorney General Bob Ferguson has advised against this, just as State Treasurer Davidson did against the move to take the money required to protect Washington.
But none of that seems to matter. The only thing that seemed to matter was ramming through legislation to meet some arbitrary target number. All of this left a bad taste in my mouth and I hope to see better governing next session.
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From the Washington State Treasurer, Duane Davidson