Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Transportation forum in Pasco this Thursday – Voice your opinion!
In June, I voted against House Bill 1954, a measure sponsored by House Democrats and supported by Gov. Jay Inslee which would have increased the state gas tax by 10.5 cents a gallon to pay for new transportation projects. My Republican colleagues and I feel strongly the Legislature needs to implement accountability reforms within the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to stop wasteful spending and expensive mistakes – and these reforms must be enacted first before the public is asked for one more dime. The measure passed the House along mostly party lines, 51-41. However, it died in the Senate.
In recent days, Gov. Inslee has been quite vocal that he wants the Legislature to approve a gas tax increase to fund transportation projects in Washington. He's considering calling a special session in November to address this issue. While I understand the importance of having a vibrant transportation system, I share the concerns of many that the governor's call for a special session may be premature – largely because we do not have necessary reforms in place, our economy is still fragile and people cannot afford what could become the highest gas tax in the nation. Also, there is no agreement in place among the House and Senate – nothing has changed since the last session. Plus, if we wait two months when the Legislature is scheduled to be in regular session in January, we will save taxpayers the expense of another special session.
Ultimately, we need to hear from citizens across the state. That's why Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairs Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, are holding a series of transportation “feedback forums” across the state through Oct. 15. Locally, they have scheduled a forum for tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 26, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Columbia Basin College, Gjerde Center, 2600 N. 20th Avenue in Pasco. I encourage your attendance and your feedback about transportation in Washington state. If you cannot attend, you may submit written testimony online at: www.senatetranspofeedbackforum.org.
Revenue forecast positive, but economy is still fragile
As a member of the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, I am encouraged by last week's news that the state is expecting an additional $345 million for the 2013-15 biennium and an increase in revenue for the following 2015-17 budget cycle of $342 million. Read my press release. Our economy, however, is still very fragile and the unemployment rate – especially among many of our rural counties – remains high. I believe we need to move forward very carefully with this additional money, taking care of our state's basic obligations and priorities such as education, and then putting some money aside in case of future economic downturns.
I'm pleased that a Senate panel is working to shine light on the costs versus the benefits of Initiative 937 (I-937).
The measure was approved in 2006 by just under 52 percent of voters. It requires utilities with at least 25,000 customers to buy at least 3 percent of their power from eligible renewable resources, such as wind and solar. Those requirements increase to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020.
During a public hearing Sept. 17 in Richland, the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee heard the initiative is driving up the cost of people's power bills because renewable energy is more expensive than hydropower (not considered renewable under I-937). In addition, many utilities say they already have adequate power until at least 2020, much of it hydropower under contract for many years into the future. Yet they still have to buy the renewable electricity and consumers have to pay for it. One report estimates the average homeowner is paying an additional $50 a year for I-937 in the form of higher electric bills. That amount could soar when the higher mandates kick in less than three years from now. So it makes sense to determine now what our state is gaining from the initiative.
Last week, I joined 16 Republican lawmakers to sign a letter written by the Washington Policy Center asking State Auditor Troy Kelly to conduct a performance audit “of how the law is impacting the energy market in Washington and if the law's promises, including reducing carbon emissions, are being realized.” Read the performance audit request letter.
I strongly believe we need a cost-benefit analysis of I-937. Since Washington currently has an over-abundance of electricity, I feel we need to slow construction of renewables until demand aligns with supply, and reconsider the increased mandates of 2016 and 2020, which would only further drive up electricity costs .
It has been nearly seven years since the measure was approved by voters. It's time for a thorough review to determine whether I-937 is really worth the cost.
I work for you throughout the year
Although the Legislature is not currently in session, I work for you throughout the year. We have many issues of interest in the 16th District, from agriculture to energy, and education to transportation. I encourage your input and your involvement. For your convenience, I maintain two district offices. Please feel free to drop by or call them at any time that you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. You'll find my contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!