Harbor legislators believe Democratic control will steer session

When the state Legislature convenes the 2018 session Monday, Democrats now in control of both the Senate and the House plan to get right to work to pass a capital spending plan that could fund several projects for the Harbor.

Local Democrat lawmakers and the lone Republican in the area gathered in Aberdeen on Friday to set out their legislative agendas for the coming session. All of them predicted that with Democratic control, this year’s legislative calendar in Olympia should last just 60 days, without the need for a special session.

Sponsored by Greater Grays Harbor Inc., the annual legislative sendoff at the Aberdeen Rotary Log Pavilion provides about 200 Grays Harbor area leaders and officials an opportunity to preview state policy and direction, as well as raise a few questions about the upcoming session.

“The people that are here in this room can make a difference by working together, and understanding the challenges and developing strategies,” said Ocean Shores City Councilman Jon Martin, who chaired the legislative forum for Greater Grays Harbor.

State Sen. Dean Takko, D-19th District from Longview, noted Democrats now have a one-vote majority in Olympia.

“This is going to be a moderated session,” Takko said. “We are committed in our Democratic caucus to go in there and do the things that need to be done and then get out of there. If we can’t solve it in 60 days, it’s not going to get solved.”

The key issue to most is passing the capital budget, and that can only happen by finding a legislative solution to the so-called Hirst water-rights State Supreme Court decision that has muddied the waters in bringing the capital spending plan to a final vote. The $4.2 billion capital budget has more than $1 billion in school construction funds, as well as funding for a number of local projects such as the Aberdeen Gateway proposal, fish hatchery improvements, dredging at Westport and coastal erosion control.

“I’ll do whatever I can to get that capital budget out,” Takko said.

The lone Republican lawmaker from the area, Rep. Jim Walsh of the 19th District from Aberdeen, already has several bills proposed in advance of the session, most notably a bill he is co-sponsoring to ban the raising of Atlantic salmon using state waters; and another to bring more tax money from marijuana sales back to the counties.

“Because it’s a short session, I wanted to get those out quickly,” Walsh said of the proposals he made. As a Republican, he said, “I think there is going to be a lot of defense to play.”

Walsh said he was against proposals for carbon tax (proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee), and opposed proposed gun-control legislation. He also sounded an optimistic note going forward:

“We want to do good for the people of this area. We want to make coastal Washington a better place to live, a better place to work, a better place to own a business and a better place to raise a family.”

Rep. Brian Blake, D-19th District from Aberdeen, noted he is now the longest-serving member of the so-called Coastal Caucus with 16 years in the Legislature. Coming from Grays Harbor, Blake said he believes “it is all of our job to start to bring some of that prosperity from other areas of the state” back to southwest Washington.

Blake said he currently is working with Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-24th District from Sequim, on an Orca recovery act, and would like to also work on a bill to improve salmon hatchery production, as well as promote new technology in the timber industry. But he was not in favor of the bill to ban Atlantic salmon farming.

“I guess from my perspective, I don’t understand why we would ban a business. It seems to be out of favor, and I am not a particular fan of that business, but it is an existing business,” Blake said. “Give them high standards to meet to protect the environment, and give them an opportunity to meet those standards.”

In support of the capital budget, Blake predicted the Legislature would vote on the existing $4.2 million proposal in the first week.

Tharinger, who chairs the Capital Budget Committee in the House, and also is a member of the Appropriations and the Health committees, noted all of those assignments govern areas that are “important to the Harbor and the (Olympic) Peninsula.”

Delaying action on the capital budget, Tharinger said, has created an increased cost now of between 6-15 percent, or as much as $250 million. Although the Legislature debated solutions to address the impacts from the Hirst decision during the 2017 session, they were unable to reach an agreement on legal changes and did not pass any related legislation.

“This is not good policy and it’s not a good way to run the state,” he said, predicting the Legislature will find a way to get around the water-rights issue with new legislation.

“The way we are going to do that is that there is going to be $20 million invested in the capital budget for the next five biennium to invest in water resources,” Tharinger said.

“I think that is one of the silver linings … that we are just starting to realize as a state that we need to make these investments,” he added, predicting it would be the first priority in the first two weeks as part of “the game plan.”

Rep. Mike Chapman, D-24th District, noted his goal has been to bring rural and urban Washington together. His district includes all of Jefferson and Clallam counties and much of Grays Harbor County.

“I firmly believe that when the Interstate-5 corridor is growing economically, instead of denigrating that or criticizing that, we need to work them and say, ‘Hey we’ve got some capacity out here.’” Chapman said.

Chapman, from Port Angeles, noted he and others locally participated in a “listening session” with urban lawmakers in Aberdeen last year to help boost support for some of his more rural proposals. He plan to work on a rural development package for things like new and improved bridges and fish passage enhancements.

“We need to work together. We need to realize we are one state,” Chapman said.

Also in attendance was Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-6th District, who said his hope is to see a full budget and spending package passed by Congress sometime in the next year.

“It’s really bad for taxpayers,” Kilmer said of the lack of action on a full national budget. “No family would do business this way.”

He said he has sponsored a bill that is called “no budget, no pay.” It says that “if members of Congress don’t do their job and pass a budget, they shouldn’t get paid,” Kilmer said to a round of applause.

His goal is to sponsor more job-creating legislation through educational-based programs, such as strengthening the ability to get financial aid for college.

“One of the things as I look to in the new year is we are going to be working on a number of bills that focus on expanding apprenticeship opportunities,” he said.

Kilmer, the co-chair of a group known as the Bipartisan Working Group, got the loudest applause when he declared: “My hope in 2018 is that you will see less partisan bickering and more focus on progress.”