I hope you have been able to enjoy your summer. It has been a very busy interim as I have met with many groups, organizations and constituents working on possible legislation and issues for the 2024 legislative session. Below is just a snapshot of some of the things I have been working on:
European green crab invading coastal communities
If you live in any of the coastal communities in Washington state, you are likely aware of the colossal problems this invasive species is damaging or threatening shellfish, eelgrass and critical estuary habitat for salmon and other important species.
I am working with fish and wildlife officials and other interested parties to see how we could commission a thorough genetic study to help scientists disrupt or slow the green crab growth and population on our coasts.
For more information on the devastating nature of this invasive species check out the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's “European green crab” webpage.
Small school funding, education policy and teacher compensation
Last session, my House Bill 1044 died as the result of a stalemate between the House and Senate, despite strong support from both chambers. This legislation would have provided funding for small school districts through a grant process based on need. School districts would have received a score based on certain criteria. I am continuing to work on getting this legislation across the finish line. All of our students deserve a quality learning environment, no matter what zip code they live in.
Two other education-related issues I am focusing on this interim include; how to create an environment of good student behavior while still being inclusive. I am also looking at some teacher compensation issues as well.
I will have more details on those issues as we get closer to the legislative session.
Washington state second in the nation in fuel prices
Washington continues to trail only California in fuel prices across the country. Thanks to the cap-and-trade program on top of other progressive taxes, our state had the dubious honor of having the highest gasoline prices in the nation for about six weeks. However, California has recently wrestled that top spot away from us in the last month or so.
As of Tuesday, Washingtonians were paying $5.05 for a gallon of gas, with California leading the way at $5.26. Hawaii is a distant third at $4.78. Our neighbors are paying: Oregon $4.71 and Idaho $4.11. We are paying $1.20 more a gallon than the national average of $3.85.
Gas price map courtesy of AAA. You can find more information here.
Many factors impact fuel prices. However, much of the increase we are seeing is due to the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), or the cap-and-trade program passed by the Democratic majority party in 2021. According to a report by Affordable Fuel Washington, the CCA is adding about $.44 per gallon for gas and $.55 for diesel fuel since the tax on CO2 emissions went into effect at the beginning of this year.
Last year Gov. Jay Inslee said, the new state tax on CO2 emissions would have “minimal impact, if any” on the price of fuel. “Pennies. We are talking pennies,” he said.
The governor and the Department of Ecology missed the mark on that declaration. The gas prices are impacting everyone – especially those who are on a fixed income, those who travel a long distance for work, and farmers, who were supposed to be exempt from the new carbon law.
The governor has also attributed the high fuel prices to price gouging by the oil companies and a pipeline that was under repair, but is now operational.
- Pipeline that Inslee blames for gas price spike has been open for nearly a month (Washington State Standard)
- EDITORIAL: Inslee distances himself from impacts of his climate policies (Capital Press)
- OPINION: Inslee lied about the cost of the carbon cap and trade program (Donald Kimball, Communications Manager at Washington Policy Center/The Center Square)
A recent article in the Capital Press, “Washington's cap-and-trade take tops $900 million for year,” states that since cap-and-trade went into effect Jan. 1, gasoline prices in Washington have risen by $1.25 a gallon, compared to increases of 76 cents a gallon in California and 88 cents a gallon in other Western states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Over the past year, gasoline prices nationwide have fallen by 70 cents a gallon, but have risen by 23 cents a gallon in Washington, the most in the U.S., according to AAA. Over the same period, Oregon gas prices fell by 16 cents a gallon.
- Washington senator calls for cap-and-trade changes (Capital Press)
- Washington Democrat calls for price cap on carbon pollution permits (The Center Square)
I have signed on to the letter submitted by Sen. Gildon requesting changes to the cap-and-trade program. You can read that letter here.
Working to lower the gas prices in Washington state is not a partisan issue. The high cost of fuel is impacting each and every one of us. It is too early to tell if any of their proposals will gain any traction in the 2024 legislative session.
Washington State Crime Report shows concerning trends
In July, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released its Annual Crime in Washington Report. The report indicated Washington state experienced its highest murder rate since the 1980s. The report is a reflection of how we need to strengthen our public safety policies. It also shows we need to have more law enforcement officers serving the people of Washington state.
Our state has the lowest number of police officers per capita in the country. If Washington had the national average of officers-to-population, we would have more than 7,000 officers commissioned than we do right now. It will take a long time before we are able to hire that many more officers. For more on the report, check out the stories below.
- Report: Washington sees record-high violent crimes in 2023, record-low officers per capita (FOX 13)
- Homicides, violent crime up in WA as police staffing hits all-time low (The Seattle Times)
- Murders hit record, auto thefts soared in 2022, new figures show (Washington State Standard)
Public safety will be a top priority again when we convene for the 2024 session.
To check out some of the solutions we offered during the legislative session to improve public safety and make our communities safer, go to our priorities page and click on the “making communities safer” section.
As we work to ensure our communities are safe, one of the issues we must get a grasp on is the fentanyl crisis. The weakened drug laws we have had the last couple years are a contributing factor. In fact, the biggest percentage increase in overdose fatalities in 2022 occurred in Washington and Wyoming, where deaths were up 22%.
WA Long-term Cares
Was your paycheck smaller in the month of July? The WA Cares Fund, the new state-run, long-term care insurance program began July 1. The payroll deductions started for many Washington workers, including part-time and temporary workers. Those in the program are paying about 58 cents on every $100 of their earnings.
I am adamantly opposed to the payroll tax program passed by the majority in 2019. It is:
- Inadequate. There is a limited lifetime benefit of up to $36,500. That does not cover long-term care needs or costs for very long.
- Unfair. It is a regressive tax that impacts lower-income individuals the most. Also, there is no guarantee you will get the benefits of the program. If you do not end up using the money or benefit, you forfeit all the money that was taken from your paycheck. Your spouse is not eligible for your benefit contributions. Finally, it is not portable – meaning if you leave the state you lose your money and/or benefits.
- Unpopular. You, the voters, voiced your strong opposition to the plan in the November 2019 general election. Nearly 63% of voters said the long-term care payroll tax should be repealed in Advisory Vote No. 20.
Last session, House Republicans sponsored House Bill 1011 that would have repealed the program. The bill did not get a public hearing. Now there is discussion to make the plan optional.
- WA Republicans propose making new long-term care tax optional (The Seattle Times)
- Washington Republicans propose opt out on long term care payroll tax (The Center Square)
I would support a proposal that makes the long-term care payroll tax optional. The great people of our state should be able to decide for themselves what kind of long-term plan works best for them and how much they need or want to invest in their long-term care needs.
Following your state government
While the Legislature is not in session, there is a lot happening with state government issues. A couple of websites to stay tuned in to what is happening related to state issues are listed below. I encourage you to check them out.
Please do hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments. Your questions and input are important to me.
It is an honor to serve the 19th District!
Your Humble Servant,