Agriculture is the driving force in our economy for the 14th District. The jobs, taxes and revenues generated by agriculture are vitally important to each of us. From hops, timber, fruit and vegetables to cattle, dairy, hay and grapes we have a wonderfully diverse agricultural base. It is pleasing to see the Governor recently recognize what we’ve known for generations that agriculture and its workers are “essential” to the state economy. We need to do whatever we can to keep our farms and businesses competitive in the world economy. The impact of environmental regulations, taxes and employment requirements on our competitiveness must be kept in mind as we move forward. We also need to provide for our farm workers by providing a safe environment in which to work, as well as benefits and fair compensation. The balance between being competitive and protecting our workers is a challenge and is an area we need to continually strive to improve.
Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line on a daily basis. They work to keep us safe and enforce our laws. We owe them a debt of gratitude and need to thank and support them on a regular basis. Without them we would have chaos. The many unspeakable things that they see and deal with daily take their toll. Their problems are seen all across our nation. I was honored to prime sponsor SB 6570 which creates a task-force to develop methods to help officers deal with mental health challenges and suicide. The task force is made up of numerous law enforcement agencies and associations and is run through the Washington State Department of Health. This bill passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously and has now been signed by Governor Inslee. We need to do more to help these brave men and women.
We as a nation need to honor and thank all of our veterans. Many of our veterans have risked their lives in numerous conflicts. Many have returned home with special needs and some have given their all in fighting for our freedoms and protecting our nation. We cannot abandon nor neglect our obligations to these American heroes. Too many of our veterans are homeless, have mental health or drug dependency problems. It is up to each of us to help them work through these issues. I was very pleased to help Representatives Dufault and Corry obtain funding to convert our abandoned Armory in Yakima to housing for our homeless veterans and provide mental health counseling and medical treatment on site. The Yakima Housing Authority is developing and will be running this project. We should never forget our veterans.
Transportation is the lifeblood of a good economy. It provides for delivery of all of our goods and services, gets people to and from work as well as travel for pleasure and business. The state transportation system currently is faced with numerous challenges. We are billions of dollars behind on our maintenance and preservation.In the past our transportation revenues have come from the gas tax. But with higher mileage cars and electric powered cars those revenues are declining. We also have one of the highest costs to build our infrastructure (roads and bridges) in the nation. On average, 30% of our transportation costs go to environmental mitigation, like the $3.8 billion court order to improve fish passage, mainly with highway culverts. Now with the effects of the current virus, we expect our revenues to be drastically reduced. We must find ways to reduce our construction costs, be more reasonable and realistic on environmental issues, and find new sources of revenue for transportation. One solution that I believe is reasonable and fair is to take the sales tax on our cars and trucks from the State’s general operating budget and transfer it to the transportation budget. There is more of a nexus to transportation than the operating budget. It can also be shown that an investment in transportation will return as much as two to three times what the operating budget would be giving up.
Seniors are part of our most vulnerable population. We need to provide and protect each of them. Seniors should not be driven out of their homes by over taxation and regulation. Keeping seniors in their homes is usually the most affordable and comforting way for them to live. The healthcare and treatments they need should be readily available and affordable. Government has put too many regulations and requirements on our doctors and hospitals. Reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid are not sufficient. Where else in society do we reimburse professionals at 30-40 cents of every dollar of their cost. These low rates affect the availability of healthcare to our seniors. We must do better for our doctors & hospitals and ultimately our seniors.
GENERAL OPERATING BUDGET & TAXES
The growth in our operating budget is out of control. In the 2015/17 biennium our operating budget was $38.5 billion, in 2017-19 biennium it was $45.4 billion. That is an 18 % increase. When we came into session in January of 2019, we were projected to have an additional $5 billion of unanticipated revenue than when we had recessed just 9 months earlier. Yes, $5 billion. But the majority said that is not enough and they passed an additional $2.5 billion dollars/year in new taxes. That raised our operating budget to $54.1 billion, an almost 20% increase. The state is spending more money on education (over $27 billion) than our total operating budget was in 2008. We have enough money but we are not spending it wisely. We are trying to do something for every concern and not solving any of our problems. Now seeing the economic impact of the Covid 19 virus we will be facing multi-billion dollar shortfalls. We have about $3 billion in our reserves but it should be closer to $4 billion. Instead of putting that additional money into reserves last year, the other side of the aisle bypassed the budget and put close to $1 billion directly into their pet projects. They will never have enough money and their answer is to raise taxes and take more of our hardworking citizens’ money. We have to get spending under control and focus on solving our challenges.