Commentary: Wasted opportunity will hurt Washington’s kids, infrastructure and economy

Rep. Strom Peterson

This is the first time in state history that lawmakers failed to pass a capital budget. The capital budget, sometimes known as the construction budget, creates tens of thousands of jobs across the state by investing in community construction projects. These resources build schools, colleges, state parks, dental clinics, and make improvements to our mental health facilities.

As a member of the negotiating team, I fought hard for projects in our district and projects important to our values, including record investments in mental health and affordable housing, while finding common ground on issues important to my Republican colleagues. I also helped ensure the House voted for the capital budget well before the end of the third special session, and it passed on a 92-1 vote. Eventually, negotiators representing both parties in the Senate and the House reached an agreement on a $4 billion capital budget. However, the Republican-led Senate killed that agreement by refusing to vote on the capital budget, tying it to an unrelated water rights dispute regarding the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.

Hirst is a complex water issue that affects landowners, builders, tribes and the environment. House Democrats negotiated in good faith to solve the issue. Most recently, Democrats offered to provide immediate relief for the next two years for every property owner currently in limbo over the Hirst issue, giving lawmakers and stakeholders additional time to find a long-term solution, but Senate Republicans rejected all our proposals.

Holding the capital budget hostage in order to extract a policy concession elsewhere is counterproductive. Rejecting an agreed-to $4 billion investment in our state’s economy over the next two years will hurt Washington’s economy as a whole – including those looking for relief from Hirst.

Here are some of the critical infrastructure investments that were killed when the Republican-led Senate adjourned without voting on the capital budget:

– Tens of thousands of jobs in construction, engineering and natural resources
– A record $1 billion to build new public schools, which would help satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund our schools
– $800 million in projects at our colleges and universities
– Improvements to state and community mental health facilities
Investments needed to complete ongoing projects, such as the JBLM Traumatic Brain Injury Center
– Affordable housing funding when the housing crisis is reaching its peak
– Local construction projects in every corner of the state, such as the more than $4 million in community and conservation projects in our district
– Projects to bring safe, clean water to communities throughout Washington

While the actions of the Senate Republicans have the Legislature ending on a major down note, 2017 did have many wins. Those wins include a historic investment in K-12 education, the creation of the new Department of Children, Youth and Families and the passage of paid family and medical leave, which will help working families across the state.

Despite these successes, House Democrats understand how important the capital budget is and are committed to continue working on the water issue. We will gladly come back to pass a capital budget and a Hirst fix whenever the Senate Republicans are ready to compromise. Although the session is now officially over, if you care about this issue please call the Legislative Hotline (800-5620-6000) and let the Republican-led Senate know that they should vote for a capital budget that builds a better Washington.

— By Rep. Strom Peterson

Strom Peterson represents the 21st District in the Washington State Legislature.

  1. You are not telling the whole story on this issue at all. 1). The “permit exempt” wells affected by this ruling account for only 2-3% of the total water use in the state. For those that have take statistics that is the percentage considered within the margin of error, so negligible at best. 2). These wells are crucial to rural land owners. Without a well or potential for a well, property valuation drops precipitously. This will lead to severe revenue issues in rural counties that are often cash strapped. This will essentially gut rural education, rural govt services, and county infrastructure projects. This would have a devistating effect on rural communities. 3). Most of the democrats voting against a fix come from urban districts that won’t be affected by this issue at all. The democrats wonder why there is such a gap in rural vs urban support. This is a prime example of why!

    1. I don’t want pay a lot more in property taxes to fund schools in Ritzville while they’re taxes go down. That’s not American. My property value is way up – how does that justify a tax increase for me and a tax cut for Ritzville (should we ask Mark Schoesler?)

      1. It would seem that your argument is more with the way taxes are based on property value, than with water. This is an issue which Washington needs to address: when a lot of relatively wealthy people move into my neighborhood and build mcmansions, my taxes go up. This is not right: it is in effect, the state saying “You’re not rich enough to live here anymore – time to leave.” — I have less problem with helping poor areas with schools; we are, after all, all part of the greater community, and helping others, especially with something so essential the the good of the country, IS the American way.

        1. Nathaniel, there are many factors which make our taxes go up but just build a expensive home next door is not one of them. The new home pays mitigation fees for parks and other infrastructure. They also will pay fees on the water bill that reduce the amount needed from existing water users. They also add to the tax base which effectively lowers the rate per thousand needed from the rest of us.

          The library tax and the EMS tax is paid on a fixed rate per thousand and while the money collected for library leaves the city the EMS tax goes to the general fund and if more is collected because of a new big house then there is less of a need from the general fund to pay for FD1.

          Any redevelopment has the effect of lowering taxes on the rest of us. Taxes do go up but not because of the big house next door.

  2. Rep. Peterson,

    Many of us already know that the watershed protection element of your side’s reasoning is all a facade. You’re real interest is to take away people’s ability to provide their own water and get them into cities where they are dependent on public utilities to provide them with water (after poisoning it witch chemicals, of course).

    However, in the interest of hearing your side, will you please explain to me the following:

    You continually scare us about the environmental hazards of unregulated private well use. Now, the fact that all unregulated private well use in the country accounts for under 1% of our state’s water use aside, let’s hypothetically say it was something significant, 10%, 10x more than what it really is! Now water that is drawn from a personal well, even if 10x more the amount than what really happens, is ALL returned to the same land it was taken from. Every drop goes back to the same watershed. But rather than allow this system to continue which is 0 drain on the watershed, you propose far-away public utilities steal water in large quantities, poison it with chemicals, and then redistribute it to anybody who pays a utility bill. And you say this measure of regulation is better for the watershed. Even though it moves water to a different place than it came from…how is this?

    I’ve asked this question to many legislators who support Hirst vs. Whatcom and have yet to get a response.

    We don’t want to compromise. We want autonomy of our water. Not for a 2 year period Not for a 4 year period. Not for a 10 year period. Forever! They had no right to make that ruling in the first place. It’s bad enough that they made it but now that they try to justify with faulty logic, it’s insulting. It’s a ploy to gain more control. It not only fails to benefit the environment but it actually hurts it, and people as well. Stop spinning this as some noble environmental cause. And stop bringing the schools into it. There’s always a public education crisis whenever you need to outrage people so that they vote away more of their autonomy to you. This state has collect more tax revenue each of the last successive years and allocated more of it to public education than ever before. If there is still a public education crisis after that then it appears giving more money to schools is not an effective solution. We should remove all the tax levies that have been creeping in every year and focus on addressing the cause of the problem rather than blindly pump more money into a sinking ship.

  3. Having a Governor who renigs on a hard fought
    general operating budget is, in Peterson’s words, counterproductive. Democrats have to honor their agreements or they will get no agreements. Jay Inslee pulled a dirty deal with the line item veto after the legislative leaders of both party’s reach a compromise budget and the Jay claims Republicans had no budget deal with him, just the Democrats in the legislature. So Jay, what comes around goes around. Good luck with any future legislative deals.

    1. Those words apply to “your side” as well. When the aquifer runs out – good luck with any legislative deals because the low population representing legislative representatives will be long gone……

      1. How does private well use drain an aquifer? Every drop is returned to the same land it is drawn from. None of the politicians who have claimed unregulated well use is dangerous have addressed this. Can you tell me how individuals drawing water and returning it to the same ground drains an aquifer?

        1. As opposed to the city water urban legislators want to get everybody on which steals from a distant aquifer source and after chemically poisoning the water redistributes it, for a profit, to anybody that will pay a utility bill. This also gives people the false impression that water comes from faucets and gives people no incentive to be personally responsible for their water consumption because as long as they keep paying their water bill, it never dries up.

        2. To be fair, not every drop goes back into the same ground it was drawn from, unless the house in question is off public sewers and there is absolutely no runoff into streams or creeks. Moreover, if lawns and gardens are watered or cars washed, there is evaporation. Depending on the ground and the depth of the well, the “return” time can take up to years, while on its way down, depending on the geology, the water may be unable to pass through certain layers, or it may flow downhill against a hard substrate.

        3. But once a person has lived on the land for whatever the return time is, wouldn’t it be replenishing everyday. If it takes, say 700 days to return, then after 700 days they get water from the first day, after 701 days water from the second, 705 water from the sixth, etc…It’s not like every time you take water it erases all the water you took earlier that is in the return process.

          I am talking about land off of public sewers. I suppose you are right that there could be some runoff into streams or creeks though having been in the market for land for almost a year now, I’d say the vast majority of properties here have neither.

          Your evaporation point is technically correct though it is debatable if a particular spot of land ultimately loses more water to evaporation or gains water from rain. I’d assume most places in western WA have a net gain.

          Ultimately I’m asserting that taking water from and using in the same spot keeps more water in its original aquifer than transporting it to a remote public utility and distributing it to anybody in any amount they are willing to pay for (or as they call their system which makes them a profit from a resource they confiscated, “regulation”).

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