Op-Ed: 2010 legislative session had some hits, misses
Thank you to everyone who called and wrote us during the legislative session. Your input is always incredibly valuable. In this column, we will give you a brief rundown on the 2010 legislative session, tax increases and some local legislation that passed. However, you are always welcome to contact our district offices for further information and assistance.
This year, there were areas of strong bipartisan agreement – such as the opposition to the nearly $800 million tax package and the “no-reforms” budget. Unfortunately, when it came to the pro-jobs legislative agenda we proposed, the majority party did not see fit to lend their support to pass it.
During the regular 60-day session, the majority party overturned the voter-approved Taxpayer Protection Act (Initiative 960), allowing a simple majority vote of the Legislature to increase taxes. We believe I-960 was one way to ensure bipartisan work on the budget situation, but once it was undone all talks of spending reforms were ended. We joined the bipartisan opposition to repealing I-960.
After a tax-increase stand-off between the House and Senate, the governor called a 30-day special session to allow Democrats more time to decide on tax increases. By April 13, the majority party passed a nearly $800 million tsunami of tax increases while refusing to make any substantial reforms to government operations and spending. In fact, state spending was reduced by less than 1 percent over last year's budget. Families in this economy would be ecstatic if they only had to trim their household budgets by 1 percent. In all, the largest solution to the $2.8 billion spending gap was tax increases.
To us, the budget was a missed opportunity to reform and restructure government programs and spending. By focusing on priorities of government, such as education and public safety, we could have made big steps toward stopping the wave of debt created by years of overspending and relying on more than $5 billion in one-time federal bailout money to balance the budget.
On a positive note, there were some good local measures that passed. One was a bill to help local farmers by revising rules around farmers markets. House Bill 2402 will allow non-profit organizations and churches to retain their property tax exemptions when loaning or renting out their property to qualified farmers markets for up to 53 days per year, as opposed to the law's previous 15-day time limit.
Working with Republican and Democrat colleagues, Rep. Short was able to amend her bill (House Bill 2439) onto House Bill 2402 and helped guide the legislation through the process. With local economies continuing to struggle, and with families trying to keep food on the table, farmers markets are playing a more vital role for both. Farmers markets are also becoming an important tool for local farmers to sell and market their produce.
Another victory is House Bill 2925, which finally ends the stalemate between Seattle City Light and Pend Oreille County over the Boundary Dam lease. The major sticking point was lease payments were not keeping pace with the rising value of property and energy production. This measure addresses the financial impact of hydroelectric energy facilities and generation in counties, specifically Pend Oreille County. The legislation increases lease payments to ensure they are up-to-date to reflect today's costs to counties that site facilities or already operate one.
With roughly 400 bills passed this year, we encourage you to contact our offices if you have additional questions or would like more information on the budget and new and increased taxes. We work for you and your feedback is always welcome and appreciated.
Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short represent the 7th Legislative District, which includes Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln and parts of Okanogan and Spokane counties. Kretz can be reached at (509) 826-7203 or Kretz.Joel@leg.wa.gov. Short can be reached at (509) 775-8047 or Short.Shelly@leg.wa.gov.