Greetings from the state Capitol!
Our 2024 session began at noon a week ago with a combination of ceremony and housekeeping. Although it’s my fourth session as your 16th District state senator, I can’t imagine that the opening-day traditions will ever get old — and as a member of leadership I’m more involved in those traditions than most.
The long drive to the Capitol from our 16th District was made easier by the knowledge that I would again, in contrast to the two pandemic-restricted sessions, be able to have face-to-face interaction with constituents, other lawmakers and stakeholders. The transportation investments secured in 2023 (Wallula-Walla Walla and West Richland-Red Mountain) are a prime example of how better decisions come from working together.
Because this year’s session is limited to 60 days, the deadlines for acting on legislation will come up quickly. Our top priority from now until we adjourn March 7 is to look at mid-course adjustments to the trio of two-year budgets – operating, capital, transportation) adopted during last year’s longer (105-day) session.
I wish I could say the ag-overtime issue will get sorted out this session. The law enacted in 2021 (one of many controversial moves made that year, when the public was shut out of the Capitol) has created a tough situation for the agricultural sector, and farmworkers also have concerns about the policy. For an update click here. As one of only a few farmers serving in the Senate, I’m doing all I can to help other legislators understand the finer points of the issue.
Beyond my work on ag – which includes filing SB 5813, part of the Senate Republican “Cultivate Washington” agenda – my focus this session will broadly be on public safety, affordability and a mix of education and children’s issues. A tax-exemption bill I introduced this week would make living in Washington a little more affordable for the widows and widowers of veterans; keep reading for that.
A web page showing the legislation I am sponsoring is here. You may choose between bills I’m prime-sponsoring and those for which I am a co-sponsor.
Tax alert: Proposals would allow larger increases… or easier passage
Just before the end of the 2023 session the majority Democrats introduced SB 5770, which would allow a tripling of the allowable growth rate for property taxes. It would end the voter-endorsed, bipartisan 1% cap that has controlled the growth of property taxes since 2007.
We figured the bill was simply being put on the table until 2024. Sure enough, it is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee this Thursday. That meeting starts at 4 p.m. Visit this page for instructions on how to register your opposition, submit written testimony, or testify in person or by Zoom. If you know others who might also want to be heard, please pass along this information along.
When SB 5770 surfaced, the sales pitch was that raising property taxes would allow investments in public safety and education. I would rather see consideration for SB 6090, a bipartisan bill I’m co-sponsoring. It’s a better way to help rebuild the public-safety infrastructure in our communities. And as a member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee, I object to the idea that a new tax increase is needed to support our state’s paramount duty: providing for education. Take care of education from existing revenue and prioritize other funding requests accordingly.
The price tag of SB 5770 could hit $12 BILLION. Washingtonians are paying more than enough taxes already. Their legislators must do better.
Then there’s Senate Joint Resolution 8207, which would significantly lower the threshold for passing school-district bond issues. My office began receiving dozens of emails about this even before the session began, and I’m sure other senators on both sides of the aisle did as well.
Even so, the bill flew through our Senate education committee this past week – as in public hearing Wednesday, committee vote Thursday. I couldn’t support it, and here’s the reason.
School bonds represent long-term debt, which is why Washington’s constitution requires two things to pass a bond issue: a specific level of voter turnout, and support from three-fifths (a 60% “supermajority”) of those voting on the bond issue. Those requirements ensure there is solid support across a community for what is often a multimillion-dollar obligation.
SJR 8207 would drop the 60% requirement to a simple majority (50% + one vote) AND do away with the voter-turnout requirement. Under those rules, if only 100 people vote on a school bond and 51 of them vote yes, every taxpayer in the district would be forced to pay the new bond-driven tax levy for 30 years. Does that seem equitable? Or is it equitable that SJR 8207 would apply only to school bond issues, while other taxing districts would need to stick with the higher threshold for approval? To me the answer is “no” to both questions.
Dozier bill would increase tax exemption
Today I introduced a bill to close a loophole in the state’s list of property-tax exemptions. SB 6238 specifically concerns a property-tax exemption that was created in 2005 to benefit the widows and widowers of honorably discharged veterans, yet has not kept pace with similar exemptions since then.
It would raise the income eligibility for this targeted exemption to equal the standards already in place for the program that offers property-tax relief to senior citizens and disabled veterans in our state. My bill also would double the relevant income thresholds, which fairly approximates the level of inflation seen in the past 20 years.
This won’t make a noticeable dent in the state budget but it will offer equity and fairness to a select and deserving group of Washington residents who have been left behind. I will work to get this into law so it can take effect for 2025!
Teens, apply to serve as a page for the Senate
One of the most enjoyable parts of being a senator is sponsoring students as Senate pages during the legislative session. These teens serve for one week, receiving an unmatched civics education while meeting others their age (14-16 years old) from around the state – and receiving a paycheck as well! Each senator is allowed to sponsor a certain number of pages, and I still have slots open.
Click here to learn more about the Senate page program, including how to apply; this video shows what it’s like. If you know teens who would be interested, they may also contact Myra Hernandez, Civic Education Director (Myra.Hernandez@leg.wa.gov or SenatePageProgram@leg.wa.gov) or my office.
I am working to make living in our state more affordable, make our communities safer, uphold our paramount duty to provide for schools, and hold state government accountable. I’ll work with anyone who shares those goals and wants to find solutions.
Please reach out to my office with your thoughts, ideas and concerns on matters of importance to you. If you don’t already, also consider following me on Facebook. I am here to serve and look forward to hearing from you.