Southwest Washington lawmakers predict that homelessness, the fight against climate change and budgeting for bridges and roads will dominate this year’s Legislative session.
They also were concerned about a number of new proposed gun restrictions.
State Sen. Dean Takko Wednesday said the 60-day session, which begins its second week Monday, would primarily deal with Initiative 976 and adjustments to the transportation budget as a result.
“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is what’s going to happen with that initiative and how are we going to address it,” said Takko, a Longview Democrat.
I-976, decisively passed statewide by voters in November, reduces and eliminates authorities for state and local governments to impose vehicle taxes and fees to pay for transportation projects.
Under the measure, state and local governments are estimated to see revenue reductions of about $1.9 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively, over the next six years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
Opponents of the initiative, including King County and the City of Seattle, are challenging it in court, saying the initiative is unconstitutional. Nonetheless, local lawmakers said it’s important to create a new transportation budget that assumes the initiative will become law.
There is a $450 million shortfall in the $9 billion transportation budget over the next 18 months, said Aberdeen Republican State Rep. Jim Walsh. He thought legislators could balance the budget with a combination of new revenue and reduced administrative costs, such as travel expenses.
“It’s almost impossible to guess what the courts will do. There’s a chance they’ll overturn it … but it’s only responsible of us to assume (the initiative) will take effect and to adjust the budget accordingly,” Walsh said Wednesday.
Voters have twice before approved $30 car tabs, said Kalama Republican state Rep. Ed Orcutt.
“This should be the third and final time they have to say it. We need to implement $30 car tabs, not wait for the courts to make that decision,” Orcutt said Wednesday.
California solution to Washington problem?
Local legislators also had concerns about Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to take $300 million out of the state’s rainy day fund to create more housing. Orcutt said the Legislature needs to be “smarter” in how it tackles homelessness.
“We’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars into building housing and we haven’t solved the homelessness problem. In fact, it seems to be getting worse,” he said.
Instead, Orcutt said the state should fund “wraparound” services to help people with mental health problems and substance abuse. And lawmakers should reduce permitting barriers for people who want to build housing.
Takko, Walsh and Aberdeen Democrat Rep. Brian Blake all said they don’t think there is enough support for the two-thirds majority required to take money out of the rainy day fund.
“Taking money out of a long-term account and applying it to a short-term expenditure, I think that’s bad budget policy,” Walsh said. “I think we need to really tighten our belts and be more efficient about how we spend homeless housing money.”
The governor also proposed a clean fuel standard requiring fuel producers to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief gas driving global climate change. Blake, Walsh and Orcutt all said they are opposed because it would drive up gasoline prices.
“It’s a California solution for a Washington problem,” Blake said.
Takko said he doesn’t think there is enough support for the low carbon fuel standard to push it through the short session.
Orcutt said the state is already doing things to move people towards cleaner fuels and cleaner energy production. Legislation should be used to encourage people to use clean fuels, instead of being “punitive” on lower-income people who can’t afford fuel-efficient vehicles, he said.
Gun legislation to spark ‘spirited debate’
Lawmakers have introduced more gun restriction bills in response to mass shootings around the country. Takko said the major ones, which deal with high-capacity magazines and ‘assault weapons,’ are unlikely to pass.
“They’re just too big a bite to do in this 60-day session to get the votes you need in both the House and the Senate,” he said.
Walsh called the measures “insultingly unconstitutional” and said he expects a spirited debate, but he also said the measures are unlikely to pass.
Both Orcutt and Blake said they don’t support the proposed restrictions.
“My hope is that we can actually start focusing on things that will reduce crime and reduce tragedies in our community, rather than focusing on currently lawful gun owners,” Blake said.
Takko said there’s only $70 million statewide in the capital budget for new requests, so he didn’t expect too many major public works projects to get funding.
Walsh said he has two policy reform bills that are getting some traction. One would be a grant program to help jurisdictions convert unused buildings into transitional or low-income housing. The other would end “ghost bills,” or legislation that is introduced with only a title and the body of the text is added much later, typically shortly before lawmakers have to vote on it.
Editor’s note: Capitol Dispatch appears every Sunday during the legislative session.
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