State officials consider New Year legislation
Local elected officials will be focused on preventing fee or tax increases during the short state legislative session this year.
This year’s session will start on Jan. 13 and end on March 12, unless there is an extension. It is a short-session year, which means only supplementary changes to the biennial budget will occur. The cities of Quincy and George are served by Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy), Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) and Senator Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake).
It is a year of change with a new speaker in the state house, Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Warnick said. As speaker, Jinkins will have a lot of control over what happens to bills, so senators will be looking to see her priorities before making decisions.
“If we have legislation in the senate that we would like to see run, it has to go past her desk first,” Warnick said. “So it is a wait and see time period.”
All three officials, though, have different bill priorities they would like to focus on, from reducing gas leaks to defining what constitutes as meat.
This will be Ybarra’s first full term as a state representative after winning election in November, 2019. Ybarra was picked to fill Rep. Matt Manweller’s (R-Ellensburg) seat in January 2019, but was required to run for election that same year. Ybarra beat Democratic candidate Steve Verhey, of Ellensburg, with 75.7% of the vote to Verhey’s 24%.
Ybarra said this legislative session he is concerned with conversations around possible carbon taxes or a mileage tax on vehicles. He suspects Democratic lawmakers will push through legislation that hurts the fossil fuel industry without consideration of the impact on the electrical grid.
“Because we’ll be relying on wind and solar and as most of us know it is intermittent energy so it turns off and on,” Ybarra said. “So we have to have something to back it up while it’s off.”
He also believes that Democratic lawmakers are in favor of passing a bill that taxes people for the number of miles they drive per year, he said. Such a bill would disproportionately affect Eastern Washington residents, who have to travel greater distances due to their rural lifestyle, he said.
“You know for me, every day I travel 32 miles just to get to work and back that’s not going to store that’s not doing anything that’s just every day,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra also wants to pass a bill that renews a sales tax exemption for people who refurbish luxury aircrafts in Moses Lake, he said. The business employs hundreds of people each year.
He also plans to support changes to a bill that was passed last year, which restricted how much law enforcement agencies could work with the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). The bill went too far and he wants to rollback some of those restrictions, he said.
Dent’s focus in the 2020 legislative year will be on airports. There is a bill he would like to pass that would take 1% of the 6.5% sales tax on aviation fuel and put it into the state’s aeronautics fund. The 6.5% currently all goes into the state’s general fund.
The aeronautics fund provides local airports around the state with grant funding to repair their runways, lights and basic infrastructure, Dent said. Those airports could also use the funding to apply for matching grants with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Aviation is huge in the state of Washington,” he said. “It’s between a $90 to $100 billion industry a year. So it’s something that we don’t want to let fall apart.”
He also wants to support a bill to renew a state aviation loan account that is set to expire at the end of the biennial budget, Dent said. Unlike the aeronautics fund, the aviation loan account would be used for economic development, things like new hangars to encourage businesses to locate at an airport.
Airports would be required to pay back a loan from the aviation account if they received funding, he said.
“It gives a small airport you know like Quincy, Ephrata, Moses Lake Municipal, places like that a chance to borrow a little money and maybe get their airports off the ground,” Dent said.
Dent also plans on submitting a bill to curb some of the regulations on childcare providers placed by the state Department of Youth and Family Services, he said. He’s received a lot of complaints that the regulations created by the agency have driven up the cost of childcare and put some providers out of business.
“And all over the state I hear the same thing, we need affordable childcare,” Dent said. “We need relief from this overzealous department that wants to pile on more regulations on a continuous basis.”
Mental health is another issue that Dent plans to look into, he said. In particular, he wants to see what can be done to help rural American farmers, who have one of the highest suicide rates in the country, he said.
Warnick has a number of smaller bills she will be submitting to the state legislature this year, she said. On her plate is a bill to define what counts as a meat product.
“We have a lot of different interests that call a vegetarian product a meat product,” Warnick said. “We have other industries that are creating meat-like substances that we’re not sure what is in that. So I’m looking at the definition of meat.”
This session, though, she will support legislation to get rid of title only bills, she said. Last legislative session, several bills were brought before committees with no explanation of what they were about until the last minute.
“When it just says, ‘Dealing with revenue,’ you don’t know what means,” Warnick said. “Whether you’re increasing revenue or decreasing revenue or what?”
Several of those bills were used to pass additional taxes that increased the state’s revenue, she said. It is a practice that concerns her.
“I don’t know if that was done deliberately, but to me that isn’t fair to the process,” Warnick said.
Overall the state’s budget has increased at an alarming rate, she said. She was certain that last year the state wouldn’t raise taxes as it saw an almost 10% revenue increase from economic growth.
But, “At the very last minute we had about 12 different bills go through that would increase taxes and fees,” Warnick said. “It just kind of blew my mind that that happened.”
By Tony Buhr email@example.com