Dear Friends and Neighbors,
At the conclusion of the longest legislative session in state history, 193-days, the Legislature was able to agree on education funding policy changes that will provide more than $7.3 billion to our schools over the next four years. However, we adjourned the third special session without approving the state's capital budget or addressing the Hirst decision for rural land owners.
Without a new capital budget, existing projects financed in the previous biennium will be all right, but new ones will remain unfunded. The state's capital budget proposal would finance more than $4 billion in new construction projects for communities across our state.
Because of this, many important community construction projects have been delayed, including the building of new schools. The current plan includes more than $1 billion for the School Construction Assistance Plan, also known as SCAP, to help address the record number of local school-bond levy approvals this year.
So why the delay?
All sides basically agree on the projects in the capital budget and how to fund them. However during final hours of the third special session, House Democrats refused to vote on a measure that would provide a solution for one of the most critical property rights issues to face Washingtonians in decades, the state Supreme Court's Hirst decision. Many lawmakers believe not voting on the capital budget was the only way this issue would be addressed and taken seriously.
The Hirst ruling is disastrous for property rights. Homebuilders, bankers and realtors are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to make investments or develop rural properties that rely on exempt-wells for their water supply. This has far-reaching implications for all Washingtonians. As property values decline in rural areas, rural communities will be negatively impacted and urban residents will be forced to cover the loss in tax revenue.
Here's the problem. We need approval for both the capital budget and a solution for Hirst. The lack of a legislative fix for Hirst means development in many rural regions of the state will continue to be on hold as property owners are left without access to water to build or develop their property. Thankfully in our area, this has not been the case. However, residents in several other counties are being forced to deal with this current reality.
The legislative dilemma over Hirst comes down to one simple question: Should rural property owners be allowed to access water and drill wells on their own land? My answer is, absolutely!
Urban centers, like Seattle and Bellevue, draw their water from underground aquifers in rural parts of the state. Water transported to these cities allow residents and business developers the freedom to build homes, apartment buildings and commercial centers.
The Hirst decision means if you own land in some rural areas in the state, you can be denied access to the same water being delivered to city residents. This is fundamentally unfair. Rural property owners, local governments, businesses and others need a solution for Hirst.
During the regular legislative session, the Senate approved a measure four times that would have provided a solution to Hirst. Senate Bill 5239 would allow cities and counties to rely on the Department of Ecology's guidelines for watershed levels, the same method in place before the court's ruling. However, the House failed to ever bring it to the floor for a vote.
During the waning hours of the final day of the last special session, the state capital budget was ready for approval by both chambers. But once again, House Democrats refused to move the Hirst fix forward for a vote.
Although the Legislature has officially adjourned, lawmakers are continuing discussions in an attempt to approve a solution for Hirst. I remain hopeful negotiations will wrap up in the coming weeks and lawmakers will be called back to Olympia for a one-day special session to approve both the capital budget and a fix for Hirst.
Thank you to everyone who contacted my office during the legislative session. I recognize that your life is busy and your time is valuable. Hearing from you helps me do a better job of representing your interests in Olympia.
Please feel free to contact my office if you have comments, questions or feedback on state government. Thank you for allowing me to represent you!