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Lawmakers prepare for 2017 session

— State lawmakers have priorities in mind as they prepare for a new legislative session that starts next Monday.

Funding for basic education is expected to be at the top, especially with a deadline imposed by the state Supreme Court.

“The most vexing question is education and how do we allocate resources equitably?” Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger said.

Towards that end, Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal for the 2017-19 biennium calls for about $5.5 billion in new revenue, including a carbon tax, bottled water tax and expansion of Business and Occupation taxes.

“I don’t see the legislature passing such a huge tax increase onto our citizens,” Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside said.

Honeyford and Chandler noted a bipartisan legislative education task force is working on a response to the issue. Honeyford said a proposal that comes from that may include a “levy swap” to keep all school districts “whole.”

Chandler added, “The task force will present its proposal at the beginning of the session and I think we’ll work from that report.”

Rep David Taylor of Moxee said Inslee’s proposal represents “... an absolute failure in budgeting.”

He said that’s especially true because, by his estimate, the state’s revenue will grow by $3 billion over the next two years without implementing new taxes or increases

“The most interesting take-away from the Governor’s proposed tax increases is recognition of something many of us have been saying for years ... taxes on small businesses are far too high.,” Taylor said. “The only positive in the Governor’s tax package is the $92 million in B&O Tax relief to small businesses.”

Taylor believes the answer to education funding is focusing on necessities.

“The state is expecting to receive roughly $3 billion in natural revenue growth for the 2017-19 biennium, much of which could be directed to education funding,” he said. “Coupling that with real prioritized budgeting (as proposed in House Bill 1025), I believe the state can meet its funding obligations without tax increase.”

Chandler also sees a need for growing the economy statewide.

“We need to improve the economic environment throughout the state, not just in the state’s largest city,” he said.

Other priorities the three expressed include:

  • Taylor: Regulatory reform and reforming civil asset forfeiture laws to require conviction of a crime prior to forfeiture of property.
  • Chandler: ensuring water supply for future development.
  • Honeyford: Resolving fish passage issues, mental health funding and secure drivers licenses without the cost associated with enhanced license.

None of the three are confident the legislature will be able to get its work done within 105 days.

Chandler said there are 20 new members in the House, who could make for a slow start to the session. Honeyford suspects it will take much longer because the many issues to be addressed.

“The 2017 Session is sure to be one of the most difficult in recent memory,” Taylor said.

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