Report from Olympia
The Northern Light asked our local state legislators to give us their take on the successes and failures of the recently concluded legislative session. We first ran their responses on April 4, but Representative Kelli Linvilles submission was received too late for that edition. Here it is now.
Representative Kelli Linville
Going into this years legislative session, we faced an operating-budget shortfall of $1.2 billion. The deficit grew to $1.5 billion by mid-February. This chasm is the difference between programs in last years original budget and funds needed to pay the bill. The recession, earthquake and terrorism demanded hard decisions to get the budget back in balance.
All along, I rejected any general tax hike.
The increased joblessness caused by such an action would make matters far worse for countless Whatcom County families! Further, a tax increase would make it harder for our entire state to escape this recession. I also opposed slashing childrens programs or imposing radical cuts in services for other people who cannot take care of themselves as a way to balance the budget.
A day before our deadline, in fact, we reached an agreement to get the budget back in reasonable balance without hiking general taxes, and without making knockout cuts.
Writing a new budget certainly wasnt our only responsibility this year. People in Point Roberts and Blaine and other parts of Whatcom County are as familiar with transportation problems as anyone in Washington. Ill talk more in a few lines about the transportation legislation passed this year.
First, I want to emphasize the importance of the economic-stimulus package we approved. Whatcom County provisions in this package highlight:
Building-improvements at the state park near Birch Bay.
Heating and other repairs at Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College.
Infrastructure projects at Western Washington University. Our efficiency and accountability plan for transportation was the first big measure endorsed this session.
The legislation authorizes more contracting-out for design and construction which is an emphasis on stronger partnerships with private companies.
The separate transportation-funding plan includes these Whatcom County projects:
Nooksack Road to Cherry Street - an all-weather road.
Laurel to Badger Road - improvements.
State Route 542/Orleans Road - widening.
Sunset Drive - improvements.
Interstate 5 in Blaine to Canadian border additional lanes.
This 10-year, $7.7 billion statewide proposal seeks to improve safety and efficiency. The proposal includes money for transit and rail. We recognize the importance both of freight mobility for moving our goods and products to their ports and markets and of human mobility for moving our citizens in appropriate transportation-alternatives to their destinations.
A nine-cent increase in the state gas tax five cents starting next January and four cents the following year would produce most of the revenue. A 30 percent increase in the gross vehicle-weight fee half next January and half the following year and a one-percent sales tax increase on vehicles starting next January would produce the rest of the revenue.
Washington citizens will make the final decision on the plan this November.
My additional, specific issues affecting Whatcom County include:
Water. We took another step toward ensuring a safe, healthy supply of water for families, farms and fish.
Agriculture. We encouraged efficient, potentially profitable use of dairy waste. We also cracked down on frivolous complaints against dairy farmers. And we guarded tax exemptions won for farmers last year.
Recycling. We rekindled Washingtons commitment to the wise, conscientious use of resources.
Efficiency. We streamlined the permit process so people dont have to jump through a million agency hoops to do a job.
Drug courts. We patterned statewide drug treatment after a successful Whatcom County