More than halfway through the 2020 legislative session, state Representatives from the Aberdeen area are pleased, overall, with how it’s gone so far as focus shifts from hearing bills to pushing supplemental budget items that would benefit the 19th District.
“There could be some nasty tricks at the last minute, but I’d give it a B-plus, A-minus grade,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, of the session so far.
“I’m generally happy with the way session is going,” said Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.
College, technical education
“I think that we’re going to be able to keep our promise to the families of the 19th District who want to attend college or technical school, make sure that program is secure in the budget,” said Blake. “I think it’s going to lead to a lot of opportunity for the families in the 19th and along the coast of Washington to get the schooling they need to escape poverty.”
The Workforce Education Investment Act passed by the Legislature last year provides a full-tuition scholarship to college or apprenticeship training for families with in income of $50,000 or less. The House 2020 proposed supplemental operating budget calls for a one-time transfer of $42.3 million to the Workforce Education Investment Account which, through funds collected via a surcharge on job sectors like law, engineering, technology and others, funds the Washington College Grant, formerly the State Need Grant.
Walsh said, “I think on gun rights we’ve outperformed. We’ve knocked down three bad bills – the high capacity magazine ban, the assault weapons ban, and the tax on ammunition. The one that came back to life as a zombie bill is the high capacity bill.”
The original high capacity magazine bill was smothered by more than 100 amendments, but proponents brought it back in the form of House Bill 2947, currently in the House Committee on Finance.
“They attached a tax increase. The excuse for revising it now is that it has a tax increase attached, and it’s a pretty slender connection to the budget,” said Walsh. A bill with a connection to the budget can be proposed after normal legislation cutoff time has passed, and 2947 contains a tax increase on rare coin dealers and gold and silver bullion dealers that funds a buyback program for high capacity magazines.
“It has an absurd title, it’s a page and a half long, but it’s not amendment proof,” said Walsh. Long titles are a tactic used by legislators to discourage amendments, but Walsh said opponents of the legislation intend to do to it what they did to the previous magazine capacity bill. “There will be a lot of amendments,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife
Blake said a main focus of his has been “seeing that Fish and Wildlife is fully funded with general fund money. During the big recession the agency was whacked pretty hard, and it really led to them not being able to up hatchery production and some other efforts that I would like to see.”
Over time he’d like to see facilities like the Humptulips, Bingham Creek, the hatcheries on the Willapa and others across the state ramp up to full capacity, or close to it.
“I think the severe cuts in production we’ve seen over the last few decades are creating some of the problems that we’re seeing now with fisheries being shut down and whales starving,” said Blake.
The current House proposed operating budget includes $50.8 million over the next four years toward Fish and Wildlife’s operating budget.
Walsh is keeping a close eye on Gov. Jay Inslee’s low carbon fuel standard, which would require the oil and gas industry to lower the carbon intensity of its fuels.
“That could increase the tax over 50 cents for gas and 60 cents for diesel,” said Walsh. “And I will never support a gas tax like that.” He said it impacts rural and suburban residents the most, “and it really sort of frustrates me that we have heard certain people complain about the regressive tax structure in the state and wind up piling on regressive taxes.”
Blake has some other legislation moving through the system, including House Bill 2868 to extend tax credits for historical buildings, which passed the House easily and now appears to be headed for a Senate vote. And a bill to streamline fire and other trailer registration for loggers and other users, House Bill 2353, also easily passed the House and just had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Transportation.
“It’s a small bill, but it will be very helpful to the folks required to have those in the woods during fire season,” said Blake.
House Bill 2250, which expands the Fish and Wildlife program to remove derelict crab fishing gear during the May through September season, easily passed the House and had a public hearing in a Senate committee Feb. 25.
“We have a (transportation) budget that we have worked hard on, and we, without raising any additional taxes, were able to fund (most of the projects) the Governor froze after $30 car tabs passed,” said Walsh.
Gov. Inslee froze a large number of projects after the passage of I-976, saying the loss of revenue made the freeze list necessary. Walsh said by moving some money around, utilizing some unused appropriations from previous years’ projects, and putting the “squeeze on some overhead expenses,” the proposed House transportation budget clears up most of the pause list.
“We can say, and we will say, if he (the Governor) keeps projects frozen, it’s a political choice, not a budgetary choice,” said Walsh. “This puts pressure on Inslee to take projects off the freeze list.”
The rail separation project in east Aberdeen wasn’t set for funding this biennium regardlesss of the car tabs initiative, and Walsh doesn’t expect it to see any money this session. It is, however, “booked to start funding next biennium, and that has not changed,” said Walsh. “The only risk for that project was sort of a bumper car effect; some of the other delays may have caused it to be delayed,” but he expects it’s still on track for funding next go-around.
Walsh also said the delay in the Heron Street Bridge replacement had nothing to do with the car tab initiative. It had to do with the Department of Transportation’s project management schedule.