2017 shaping up as busy year for Legislature

Taxes, other key issues for Spokane Valley, are on the table

By Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley

Note: This op-ed was originally published in the January 2017 editions of the Liberty Lake Splash and the Valley Current.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

The buzz about next year’s legislative session is all about education funding, proposals for enormous tax increases, and a possible showdown with the state Supreme Court about its proper constitutional role. But those aren’t the only issues on-deck for 2017. Just as important are those with a direct impact on the people of the Spokane Valley.

As chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, I hope to play a pivotal role in these discussions – on everything from the rising rate of property crime in our area to water for our growing communities. As those of us who serve in the Legislature pack up our offices over Christmas and prepare for 15 weeks in Olympia, here is a rundown on the big issues we will be considering.

Budget and taxes — Gov. Jay Inslee set the stage with a proposal Dec. 13 for the biggest tax increase in Washington state history – an astounding $8.7 billion every two years by the time it is fully implemented. The proposal includes an income tax on capital gains, a precursor to a general income tax on every citizen of the state, as well as new taxes on small businesses, manufacturers and energy utilities. Although the governor touts his plan as a response to the Supreme Court’s demand that we spend more on our public schools, the bulk of his proposed spending isn’t for basic education but rather for pay raises for teachers and state employees.

Not only would the proposal drive up the cost of such essentials as gasoline and electricity, it would stifle economic development and job creation. Within four years the state would be $650 million in the red and require additional tax increases. Safe to call this plan a non-starter. Yet it signals to the governor’s fellow Democrats, who are in the majority in the state House, that this is a year to seek higher taxes. Our largely-Republican majority coalition in the state Senate will face challenges as we hold the line for responsible budgeting.

Property crime – A rising number of car thefts, burglaries, and other nonviolent crimes have made the greater Spokane area a national hotspot – 6th among metropolitan areas for property crime in 2014, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Last session I partnered with Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, to obtain $300,000 for targeted law enforcement efforts in Spokane County. We hope to continue the work this session by increasing penalties for habitual offenders.

Water for the Valley – One potential source of water for the fast-growing communities of the Spokane Valley are the underutilized water rights that are the legacy of the area’s agricultural past. Unfortunately, changes to state law in 2003 create difficulties in using agricultural water rights for municipal water systems. Last session I sponsored a bill to streamline the process, and will renew the effort in the coming year.

Felony DUI – Washington state has the laxest felony DUI law in the country, requiring four misdemeanor convictions within 10 years before the fifth can be charged as a felony and the offender sent to prison. For the last four years my colleagues and I have worked with victims of this senseless crime to allow the fourth offense to be charged as a felony, and we will press the case again in 2017.

Property rights – State law makes it too easy for local governments to declare properties to be blighted and take them from their owners using the power of eminent domain. Often the goal is to turn property over to a developer who will increase the tax base. Last session I introduced legislation prohibiting the use of eminent domain for economic development, and will resume the effort next year.

Corrections issues – Last year the Legislature was shocked to learn that the Department of Corrections had improperly released thousands of violent felons early, even after it was notified of the problem. After extensive investigation, our Law and Justice Committee proposed numerous reforms, and will consider proposals to improve DOC oversight, protect whistleblowers, and prevent similar management failures from recurring.

Another big topic is a revision to water rights statutes, following a court decision that already has caused many development projects statewide to be put on hold. In addition, I will be working with my 4th District colleagues, Reps. Bob McCaslin and Matt Shea, to fund continued development of the Appleway Trail. All in all, a packed agenda. Yet as always, we look forward to an on-time finish.

Sen. Mike Padden represents the Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District.