Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

2007 Legislative Session Wrap-Up From Rep. David Buri

Here is the latest e-newsletter from House Republican Floor Leader David Buri, one of our 9th Legislative District State Representatives:

April 30, 2007

Dear Friends,

The state Legislature concluded the 105-day session April 22 – a session that by any measure had its share of accomplishments and disappointments. In this edition of my E-Newsletter, I’d like to share with you an overview of how we dealt with some of the more notable issues.

Foremost among them was approval of a capital construction budget that includes $157 million for projects and facilities in the 9th District.

Washington State and Eastern Washington universities are the district’s big winners followed by the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center at Connell, which is slated to receive $13.7 million for design and construction of an additional 256-bed medium-security facility.

I was particularly pleased that the budget includes $58 million for the new Biotechnology Life Sciences Building at Washington State University. This was WSU’s top priority.

Two smaller-profile appropriations have special significance for me, and I’m proud to have had a role in helping to ensure that funding for these local projects was included in the final package: $160,000 to finish renovation of the landmark American Legion Memorial Building in Ritzville, and $150,000 for an outdoor lighting system at McDonald Park in Colfax.

All the 9th District projects included in the budget are important, but the baseball field lighting project was really close to my heart. McDonald Park is a community treasure in my hometown, and I’m pleased that we’ll be able to make a terrific daylight-hour facility into a nighttime field of dreams, too.

Operating budget
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the session was the majority party’s disregard when it came to spending. It adopted an operating budget that spends $1.3 million more than the state will collect in taxes, setting the stage for a huge $1.2 billion shortfall a few short years from now when programs will have to be slashed or taxes raised. Spending is a whopping 15 percent higher than the last budget.

In fact, the budget has grown 33 percent – or $8.2 billion – since Gov. Gregoire and the majority party took control of the process two years ago.

Rainy day fund
Republicans were successful in convincing the governor and majority Democrats to support a constitutionally mandated “rainy day” fund. Of the 700-plus pieces of legislation that came before the House for a vote this session, approval of Senate Joint Resolution 8206 was perhaps the most important for taxpayers and to bring stability to the budgeting process. I hope the voters will agree in November and support this proposal to create the first real 'savings account' for state government.

Health care
The critical issue of health care was addressed in a sub-par fashion. Last year the governor formed a Blue Ribbon Commission, with the expectation of building consensus on bold, new reforms. Yet none of the recommendations to address costs and provide affordable health care options for families was adopted. Instead, lawmakers poured millions more into an increasingly expensive system that gives government more control and families less control of their health care decisions.

Property taxes
I was disappointed that despite promises from majority party leaders, no bill to provide property tax relief was ever considered. Efforts to pass bills limiting property tax increases to 1 percent per year were consistently rejected.

So too, were our efforts to provide a $400 rebate to every property owner in the state, and significant tax relief for employees, their employers and the agriculture industry.The Republican package would have saved taxpayers $3.3 billion.

Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad
After years of financial problems, legal wrangling and fears that the line might be abandoned altogether, an agreement was signed this session that will ensure the long-term operation of the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad.

The governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding that lays out a process to complete the sale to the state of the tracks, properties and operating rights for the CW (Cheney to Coulee City) branch of the three lines that together comprise the 372-mile short-line railway.

Keeping the railway open had been a nearly round-the-clock project for me, Rep. Hailey and Sen. Schoesler. The governor’s signature marked the achievement of one of our team’s top priorities for the 2007 session.

Rural economic development
A bill I sponsored authorizing the use of local retail taxes to give rural communities another tool to promote economic development cleared the Legislature and was sent to the governor.

The measure (HB 1543) allows rural counties to tap sales- and use-tax revenues to pay for economic development officers and staff, and port districts also would be able to utilize the funds for economic development purposes within the county. Best of all, it would not alter the overall sales and use tax rate in a locality, nor would it impose any additional taxes on consumers.

The 9th District team
Although Washington state government is ruled by one party, Rep. Hailey, Sen. Schoesler and I made our voices heard this year. Given the super-majorities in both chambers, I’d say we had mixed results, but through it all, the teamwork and spirit of camaraderie among us makes me very proud of our efforts for the people of the 9th District.

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