On Friday, March 25, House Democrats in Olympia proposed an operating budget that passed on a party-line vote with Democrats voting Yes and Republicans voting No.

It is important to note that state House Republicans were not part of budget negotiations. However, we were able to get some key amendments adopted during the debate on the House floor. Some of the amendments include: 

  • providing for more local drug and gang policing in response to the opioid epidemic.
  • giving additional assistance to small and rural school districts uniquely affected by the McCleary legislation. 
  • investing in hatchery production at state and tribal fisheries with an emphasis on Chinook salmon, the Orcas’ preferred prey.
  • increasing Medicaid fraud enforcement, saving state taxpayers $240 million.

Last biennium’s budget was $44.4 billion and this proposed budget would increase spending by $8.6 billion to $53 billion, or 19.4 percent over the current budget. This is also a 70 percent increase in spending since 2013. 

This proposal continues to grow government spending much faster than the incomes of families in Whatcom County and across Washington state who are paying out of pocket for it. This is unsustainable. 

With the strong economic growth we have experienced, it is difficult to understand why the majority party wants to raise taxes. 

They are proposing more than $4 billion in new tax increases over the next four years — despite the historic level of revenues now being collected from hard-working taxpayers.

Proposed taxes include:

  • a capital gains income tax.
  • a real estate excise tax.
  • a 20 percent increase of the business & occupation tax on many services.
  • new capital gains income tax is the first step toward a new state income tax. This attempt is highly likely to be challenged in court as unconstitutional. 

It is irresponsible to propose a tax and rely on that funding in a budget when the legality of the tax is going to be tied up in court for an indefinite amount of time.

The proposed B&O tax proposal would impact about 80 classifications of services — tens of thousands of businesses.

Again, with the massive increase in spending and the proposed unnecessary taxes hurting your wallet, I could not support this budget. 

I maintain that if state House Republicans were writing the budget we could fund our priorities and obligations without raising new taxes, as has been done before. That includes funding formulas for K-12 education, increasing hatchery production for Chinook salmon, fixing our broken mental health system, and protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

 

Capital budget projects

An important aspect of being a state legislator is advocating for local construction projects. The state’s capital budget contains those bricks-and-mortar projects for our K-12 schools, colleges, local governments and communities where funding may be difficult to come by. It also focuses on stewardship projects protecting our farmlands, waterways and environment. It’s your tax dollars coming home.

The House unanimously passed a strong, bipartisan capital budget plan on April 3. The proposal includes funding: 

  • to extend utilities to east Blaine.
  • to mitigate erosion on private property along Fishtrap Creek.
  •    for new bleachers at the Sumas Event Complex and a playground and water park.
  • for the Birch Bay Vogt Community Library.
  • for the Ferndale wastewater treatment plant.
  • for California Creek Estuary Park development.

 

Transportation budget projects

We were also successful in obtaining funds in the transportation budget for important projects in our region. 

There is $9.4 million for the Orchard Street Connector in Bellingham and $2 million for the Slater Road elevation project in Ferndale. There is also $2 million for a grade separation project in Blaine, which will help relieve congestion at Peace Portal and Bell roads.

Keep in mind that the House and Senate will have to work out the differences between all budget proposals in the final weeks of the legislative session. 

I have great concerns about the operating budget’s spending level and reliance upon new and increased taxes. However, the House capital and transportation budgets are the result of strong, collaborative efforts between the two parties. I am hopeful all the final budgets will be beneficial to the taxpayers of Whatcom County and the Legislature can adjourn on time with no special session needed. 

Rep. Luanne Van Werven represents the 42nd Legislative District of Whatcom County. She serves as the ranking member on the College and Workforce Development Committee and also is on the House Transportation and Innovation, Technology and Economic Development committees.