Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned the 2018 session late Thursday evening, March 8. For the first time since 2014, we adjourned on schedule. In this email update, I'll be sharing an update on the “wins,” as well as some of the disappointments of this short and intense 60-day session.
First, the wins…
Muri's public safety bill signed by governor
My legislation, House Bill 2271, to modify the review procedures for sexually violent predators (SVP) was signed into law Wednesday. Working collaboratively with the state attorney general's office, I was able push this public safety bill through the legislative process, ensuring SPV's are not released too early.
The measure was prompted by a recent Washington State Supreme Court case, In re the Detention of John Marcum, which potentially entitled SVPs a new unconditional release trial each time an annual review found a less restrictive placement, or conditional release, was appropriate.
Because of the proximity to the Special Commitment Center located on McNeil Island, a larger proportion of SVPs are often released here in Pierce County. The court's Marcum decision was an important public safety concern for our communities. It also could have resulted in more than $7.8 million annually in court costs to relitigate the same issues, creating a significant financial and evidentiary burden on the courts. This bill is good for our district and keeps us safer in our local communities.
Major tax increase proposals stopped
Washington state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council reported in February more than $1.3 billion in new revenue. However, it seems some lawmakers in Olympia never lose their appetite for more money. Once again, a capital gains income tax was proposed and defeated this session.
Also defeated was the governor's carbon tax proposal and its related burden on households and commercial businesses. Families would have ended up paying for the governor's proposal in higher prices at the pump, heating and electricity. This is a big win for every Washington state citizen.
Good news in the budget for Pierce County
During the legislative session, I met with various stakeholders and Pierce County legislators — Republican and Democrat — to work collaboratively on goals for our area, including the reduction of preventable hospitalizations. The 27th and 28th districts rank first and second in the state for preventable hospitalizations, and Pierce County came in very high as well. Together, we secured $670,000 in the supplemental operating budget for a one-year project in Pierce County focused on preventable hospitalizations.
Other items I helped get in the budget include:
- $200,000 for the pre-law and social justice program at the University of Washington Tacoma. The funding will provide a faculty/attorney position to expand the traditional pre-law curriculum, including workshops to support career pathways. The program assists and supports students from the South Sound and nearby communities in pursuing careers in law and other social justice and government fields. It also seeks to address the justice gap and helps on a wide range of legal issues in the community.
- $250,000 for the Help Me Grow child abuse prevention program in Pierce County. Pierce County has the highest number of child dependencies in the state, overshadowing King County with four times the population. While state and local agencies have engaged many innovative programs to increase family reunification and child stability, we still have work to do to curb child abuse and neglect in Pierce County.
Supplemental capital budget makes investments in local projects
During the legislative session, I helped secure capital budget funding for several projects in our district, including $1.8 million to help replace an obsolete water treatment plant at the Ponders Well Site. The plant is well past its design and operational life and, without intervention, could experience catastrophic failure. The money will help pay for the initial construction phase of the project, which also received funding in 2016 and 2017 for design and plant equipment costs.
The supplemental capital budget also included $750,000 for the new construction of an outdoor public pool for Fircrest. The new community outdoor pool will be a tremendous benefit to community members for years to come.
I also secured $2 million for property acquisition and business relocation costs associated with the McChord Airfield North Clear Zone. This is a project I've been working on since 1995, which would provide a 3,000-by-3,000-foot safety area adjacent to the end of the McChord airstrip. This area has the highest statistical possibility of aircraft accidents. By clearing this space, we ensure safety standards and the ability of the military to carry out its missions.
Fort Steilacoom Park will also receive $400,000 for improvements and restorations.
As I noted in a previous email update, the installation of wayside horns, the audible signals used at railroad crossings, are important safety and quality-of-life features. As a rail safety proponent, I know wayside horns save lives.
After the tragic events that took place in DuPont in December, I was astonished when the $400,000 allocation for wayside horns in West Tacoma at South 19th and 6th Avenue (Titlow Beach) was not included in the House supplemental transportation budget. After meeting with transportation leaders in the House and Senate, I was able to facilitate getting this critical safety funding added to the final version of the 2018 supplemental transportation budget.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls receive state funding
In 2017, a workgroup was established to study and provide recommendations on how to keep tolls from increasing on the new Narrows Bridge, while remaining fiscally responsible to the loan repayments. The result of this bipartisan effort is House Bill 2990, which prevents further toll rate increases until 2022.
The measure, which passed the House, 97-1, also sets up a financial structure that will finally fix the escalating debt structure that has long burdened bridge commuters. As a co-sponsor of the bill, I was glad to help get this measure approved and sent to the governor for his signature.
Disappointments. . .
Supplemental operating budget
The 2018 supplemental operating budget increases state spending by $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, and another $600 million in the 2019-21 biennium. It also funds K-12 salary increases in the 2018-19 school year. All of this new spending represents a nearly 16 percent increase from the time the 2015-17 operating budget was enacted.
Budget gimmicks and little property tax relief
Without eliminating any programs or asking for more in taxes, the more than $2 billion in new revenue dollars could have been used to cover this year's property tax increase. Instead, the majority party offered a tiny tax reduction of $0.30/$1,000 of assessed value in 2019 only. For the average $300,000 home, that's about $90 in savings.
The one-year property tax cut is paid for by spending money that would have gone to the constitutionally-protected Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) – also known as the state's “rainy day fund.” A budget gimmick created through Senate Bill 6614 prevented the money from going into the rainy day fund. This creates an extremely troubling precedent, not only violating the public's trust, but it raids an account that may be needed by our state in the future.
Republicans proposed bills to provide more meaningful tax relief to property owners, but they were defeated. With the robust revenue projections for our state, I think we could have done a lot better than offering a 30-cent rebate for every $1,000 of value and not played any budget “games” to do it.
I was also disappointed majority Democrats in the House turned down our efforts to increase student safety through an amendment we proposed that would have provided $30 million to pay for school resource officers in every Washington school.
Sound Transit – Majority party blocks relief
I had high hopes something would be done this year to provide people relief from Sound Transit's high car-tab fees. At the start of session, I sponsored a bill that would have allowed counties and cities to opt-out of Sound Transit.
My bill and other Republican-sponsored legislation/amendments that would have significantly reduced car-tab fees by basing the tax on fairer valuation models, like Kelley Blue Book value or the National Automobile Dealers Association, were blocked by Democrats in both chambers. They even failed to pass their own car-tab fee legislation, which was based on an older valuation formula that would have offered much less savings. It's very disappointing that no relief was provided. I plan to continue work in the 2019 session to address this and other necessary Sound Transit reform.
Staying in touch
Now that the session has ended, I've re-opened my district office in Steilacoom. The office is located at 1717 Lafayette Street, Steilacoom, 98388. Office hours are 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Thursday and closed on Friday. The phone number is (253) 301-2278.
Please feel free to stop by or call my office if you have a question, comment or concern about state government.
Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Olympia!