I am bitterly disappointed in the decision by House Democratic leaders to stonewall common-sense solutions on water rights and the capital budget after achieving several milestones in other areas such as mental health treatment and education funding.
The political games being played in Olympia by the Democratic House leadership once again shows the disdain urban liberals have for the working men and women in Southwest Washington. In fact, their action was a huge slap in the face of our own Democratic state Representative Brian Blake, whose compromise on the water rights issue attracted bipartisan support and provided a voice for tribes on water issues.
The leadership’s decision to prevent a vote on Blake’s proposal as a meaningful solution to the Hirst decision betrays a secret agenda to control water resources in rural areas of the state. Without a legislative fix like the one Blake offered, that state Supreme Court decision will lead to stricter controls on the issuing and monitoring of private wells by the state Department of Ecology. Typically, household wells are exempt from close scrutiny simply because their domestic use is such a miniscule proportion of available water resources.
But urban liberals seem to have no appreciation of the cultural importance of exempt wells to rural residents, believing instead that the bureaucrats in Olympia should dictate who gets water and who goes without. It makes no sense west of the Cascades where flooding and storm water is a more significant problem than running out of water. Take water away from property-owners, their property values tank, and they can’t build rural homes for their children’s families. Young families are forced to move to expensive urban areas which already have significant affordable housing problems. It’s as if urban liberals are conducting a stealth war to depopulate rural Washington while increasing urban homelessness.
Cowlitz County gets hit with a double-whammy. First, the potential loss of water rights means a loss of property values in our rural areas and that could mean an increase in property taxes for everyone else, including major employers. Lawyers disagree whether Hirst impacts the entire state. Consequently, such uncertainty may make it more difficult to obtain financing to develop beyond municipal water supplies available from places like Beacon Hill S & W District and the cities. Our Building and Planning Department will continue to process development applications but that uncertainty remains problematic.
(The Hirst decision technically affects so-called GMA counties, which refers to those counties experiencing rapid growth (over 1.7 percent a year) that led to stricter land-use laws under the Growth Management Act (GMA). Because Cowlitz County’s annual growth rate has been less than 0.4 percent since 1980, we are not a GMA county yet. Nevertheless, any of the major economic developments undergoing permitting processes here in Cowlitz County could trigger a jump in population to force us into GMA compliance. All it takes is for new construction jobs to attract enough families to add around 1,700 new folks. That might be as few as 400 new jobs.)
The second hit for Cowlitz County is the punitive denial of promised grants for capital projects. These include funding for the much-needed regional law enforcement firearms training facility that Longview Police Department has proposed, critical water tank repairs for Kelso, development of the Scott Hill Park in Woodland, safe access for disabled citizens at Longview’s Shay Locomotive display, vital expansion of mental health facilities statewide, and crucial funding for school construction projects proposed throughout the county.
In another tragic consequence of the Democratic failure to lead is the shutdown of salmon recovery efforts across the state. Habitat restoration projects worth over $18 million dollars in construction and heavy equipment jobs will be stopped in their tracks if the capital budget is not restored by August 31. The Lower Columbia region alone has 20 projects on the line. Perhaps the counties ought to join in the inevitable federal lawsuit most likely to be filed by Native American tribes and fish enhancement groups.
Urban liberals are attempting to accuse Senate Republicans of doing the stonewalling because of their linkage of the Hirst fix to the capital budget. Most of rural Washington is represented by Republican legislators. Since the capital budget involves a bond issue, its passage requires a 60 percent majority. Rural interests knew that since they are outnumbered by urban legislators they had to be willing to compromise on the capital budget to gain leverage for a Hirst fix. Senate Republicans announced their willingness to make such spending compromises back in January. The proposed capital budget which did pass the House almost unanimously reflects those compromises. But the most that House Democratic leaders would offer on the Hirst fix was to “kick the can down the road two years” – which is certainly not a solution for our rural neighbors. Blake’s proposal would have been the best solution.
I urge you to call on Governor Jay Inslee to work with legislative leaders to call the Legislature back into a one-day special session to finish the job we sent them to do. Tick-tock, Governor. Time’s a’ wasting.
Dennis Weber, Cowlitz County Commissioner, District 2
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