Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia

Committees:

• Ranking member: Ways and Means

• Labor and Commerce

• Financial Institutions 

• Economic Development and Trade

Q: What are your top priorities for this legislative session? 

A: Improve mental health care and treatment. In 2019 we need to make the investments and policy changes necessary to correct our state’s failure to provide effective mental health treatment and care. Funding or policy changes alone will not solve these problems and patients and taxpayers must know that more money is tied to a long-term plan, clear goals, and accountability. 

• Provide ample and accessible special education funding. In recent years, the Legislature has made significant progress by resuming its role as sole provider for basic education. But there is more we must do to ensure the state is paying the right amount of the cost to provide a high-quality education to all special education students. We also must remove existing barriers for school districts to receive the funds they need for especially high-needs students. 

• Reject calls for billions of dollars in higher taxes. The governor proposed raising state taxes by $5.4 billion per two-year budget and advocated for a $2.1 billion increase in local education property taxes. This comes at a time when the state budget is already set to grow by 9 percent without new taxes, by using the billions of dollars already coming into the state due to strong economic growth. It is clear we can fund our priorities without raising taxes on Washington residents and employers. 

Q: Are you planning on sponsoring any specific bills? 

A: I am still working with community members, stakeholders, and staff on specific legislation addressing a variety of issues including mental health treatment, flood protection, special education, financial sustainability, tax reduction, and more. Once these are finalized over the next few months I will submit these bills for consideration by the full Legislature. Also, as the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, much of my work goes into advocating for the best use of existing revenue and building a sustainable operating budget without adding additional taxes. 

Q: State Growth Management Act: Is there anything in the current law you would like to see changed? Conversely, is there anything of note you want to keep the status quo in the Act?

A: Reforms to the state’s Growth Management Act, ranging from very small to comprehensive, have been discussed quite a bit in recent years with little action. As with any law that is more than 25 years old, I agree we should revisit it to see if the intended goals are being met and if not, make necessary changes. This is especially important given the many changes in our state since 1990. 

I would also like to implement reforms that provide more predictability for builders in order to reduce the cost of constructing housing and job centers. 

Q: Local taxpayers were hit hard with new property levies this year. Given it’s a budgetary session in 2019, what do you feel deserves more statewide funding and what could use a little less?

A: Washington state is going through a significant transition in how we pay for public schools, including the use of education property tax levies. In 2017, the Legislature passed a bipartisan overhaul that transitioned our state from an overreliance on local levies to a more equitable system. Because of negotiations with legislative Democrats this meant an increase in the state education property tax rate in 2018 before local levies are capped in 2019. The long term result of this plan is that more than 70 percent of state residents are already slated to see a net education property tax reduction beginning in 2019. While this property tax reform will serve Washington well in the long term due to more equitable school funding and tax rates, I remain disappointed we did not take advantage of our strong economic growth to avoid the one-year increase in property taxes. I believe the one-year increase in property taxes was unnecessary and I sponsored legislation to prevent it.

The investments we made in education already put us on track to significantly increase overall investments in schools this year, but there are smaller areas like special education that still need to be addressed. Additionally, mental health treatment and the facilities to provide care will also need more statewide funding in the upcoming years. I will also be working on ways to have the state make more investments in flood protection and water projects that are important to our 20th District community. 

There are hundreds of areas inside the operating budget, which will likely exceed $50 billion dollars for the 2019-21 budget cycle, where we can bend the cost curve and demand better efficiency from our state government. This will require tedious, long term study of our current budget and agency proposals, but is necessary to ensure we maximize the use of taxpayer dollars. I remain hopeful that the current Senate and House majorities will be open to the careful preparation process we have used over the last three biennium to build a sustainable budget that does not require additional taxes.

 

Q: Last year the Legislature tried to rush through a bill that to many would have hindered transparency within state government. What steps can or will you take in order to promote transparency and trust between Olympia and the taxpaying public?

A: The bill passed during the 2018 legislative session, which was subsequently vetoed by the governor, followed a 2017 lawsuit by a coalition of media members attempting to determine if state legislators were subject to the Public Records Act. For decades, legal counsel for the Legislature advised members of the Senate and House they were not subject to the requirements originally passed by voters in 1972.

However, a 2018 superior court ruling indicated that lawmakers are subject to the requirements and the case is currently under appeal to the state Supreme Court. Members of the media — the plaintiffs — are currently in the process of filing briefs with the Court after which representatives of the Legislature — the defendant — will have a chance to respond. Once that process is complete, the state Supreme Court will set a date to hear oral arguments before ultimately deciding the outcome. 

While I believe the bill we passed defining what records would be made publicly available was better than the existing practice of providing nothing, I share the public’s concern that the process — which Senate Republicans had no control over — was incredibly flawed. Regardless of the outcome of the court case, residents of our state made it clear they want their state lawmakers to be more transparent.

Q: One of the biggest concerns among locals is keeping a particular aesthetic in Clark County while still pursuing economic avenues that promote or keep the region’s independence. Is there anything at the state level that can be done in order to maintain a balance between rural charm and more urban, industrial development?

A: I do not believe there is a legislative solution to this challenge. On principle I believe the best we can do is provide as much local authority as possible and in doing so allow local governments the flexibility to build the type of community their citizens desire. 

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama

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Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-20

Committees:

• Ranking member: Finance

• Agriculture and Natural Resources

• Transportation

Q: What are your top priorities for this legislative session? 

A: • Balance the operating budget with existing revenues.

• Fight against any new or increased taxes on individuals, families, and employers.

• Protect natural resources industries.

• Expand manufacturing jobs. 

• Explore options for local transportation solutions. 

Q: Are you planning on sponsoring any specific bills? 

A: Yes. I am in the process of working with my policy staff on ideas and bill-drafting. Please stay tuned.

Q: State Growth Management Act: Is there anything in the current law you would like to see changed? Conversely, is there anything of note you want to keep the status quo in the Act?

A: I am hoping the majority party is open to reforming the Growth Management Act in meaningful ways. It’s long overdue. We have seen implementation problems with the GMA, as some try to prevent growth rather than manage growth. This has prevented rural economic development and affordable housing in many areas of our state. I plan to work with my colleagues to improve economic development in rural areas and protect private property rights.      

Q: Local taxpayers were hit hard with new property levies this year. Given it’s a budgetary session in 2019, what do you feel deserves more statewide funding and what could use a little less?

A: The good news is, local levies are scheduled to drop in 2019 to offset the increase in the state levy. Our mental health system, special education, and wildfire prevention and response deserve more funding in the operating budget. As for reductions, we should go line-by-line in the operating budget to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of state programs and services. The results of this effort should guide our budget-reduction decisions.  

Q: Last year the Legislature tried to rush through a bill that to many would have hindered transparency within state government. What steps can or will you take in order to promote transparency and trust between Olympia and the taxpaying public?

A: My door is always open to meet with constituents. I try to respond to every phone call, email and letter I receive from those I represent. Anyone can sign up for my email updates, watch my video updates or listen to my radio appearances on my legislative website. TVW (our state’s equivalent to C-SPAN) offers comprehensive coverage of committee hearings, House and Senate floor action, and other activities involving the Legislature. The Legislature’s website also offers all kinds of information related to the House and Senate, laws and agency rules, bill information, agendas and schedules, committees, legislative agencies, and civic education. There are many windows into our citizen Legislature.

I voted for a bill last year that would have required state lawmakers to provide their calendars, communications with lobbyists and final disciplinary actions taken by the Legislature. The governor vetoed it. I will carefully consider any open-records legislation that comes before me next year. I’m committed to more transparency, without sacrificing constituent privacy.  

Q: One of the biggest concerns among locals is keeping a particular aesthetic in Clark County while still pursuing economic avenues that promote or keep the region’s independence. Is there anything at the state level that can be done in order to maintain a balance between rural charm and more urban, industrial development?

A: I believe diversifying Clark County’s economy and creating new jobs continue to be important goals. I also understand why it’s important to preserve the rural charm of the region. Ultimately, it’s up to local governments and local leaders — with direct input from residents — to find the right balance. The Legislature and state agencies should help enable — not create barriers for — these local decisions. One way to preserve the rural charm of Clark County and other areas of our state is to allow private landowners to continue to farm and manage timber — and not regulate them out of their ability to do so.

 

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis 

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Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis

Committees: 

• Ranking member: House Capital Budget Committee

• House Environment and Energy 

• Health Care and Wellness 

Q: What are your top priorities for this legislative session? Are you planning on sponsoring any specific bills? 

A: There is a well-known digital divide between rural and urban areas when it comes to broadband access. We need to eliminate the gap. For the upcoming 2019 session, I’m drafting a bill that would help rural areas get better internet connectivity, more capacity and better speeds. For residents living in rural regions, this would help meet a crucial need. Faster broadband also benefits businesses, enabling them to grow and create more jobs for our communities.

Democrats want a cost-increasing, job-killing carbon tax. Individuals and families shouldn’t be forced to bear the burden of our state’s clean energy future. I’m drafting a solution, similar to last year’s House Bill 2283, that offers a “carrot instead of a hammer.” Instead of forcing businesses to pay even more in taxes, my proposal provides incentives for reducing carbon emissions. It encourages investments in carbon reduction — including electric vehicle charging stations and forest health management. All new energy resources and production would need to be 100 percent clean. It also would keep energy and utility costs low.

Finally, I’m continuing to focus on finding solutions for water: how to store it, where we use it, and how to prevent flooding.

Q: State Growth Management Act: Is there anything in the current law you would like to see changed? Conversely, is there anything of note you want to keep the status quo in the Act?

A: I’d like to see a bill approved that allows counties with a population of less than 150,000 to be able to opt-out of the state Growth Management Act. 

Q: Local taxpayers were hit hard with new property levies this year. Given it’s a budgetary session in 2019, what do you feel deserves more statewide funding and what could use a little less?

A: Despite record revenue collections, the governor is asking for $3.7 billion in new taxes. Instead of taking more money from hard working individuals and families, we should be looking at a way to give them a break on their property taxes.

Next, before approving any other appropriations, the Legislature should be required to pass a K-12 education budget. The concept is simple, but effective. By funding education first, it’s elevated to the highest priority in the budget process — ensuring it gets properly funded each budget cycle.

Finally, there needs to be a better commitment to quality and broadened access to frontline mental health services. We need to make significant investments into mental healthcare and community facilities.

Q: One of the biggest concerns among locals is keeping a particular aesthetic in Clark County while still pursuing economic avenues that promote or keep the region’s independence. Is there anything at the state level that can be done in order to maintain a balance between rural charm and more urban, industrial development?

A: It’s true, urban area growth is encroaching on more rural areas of Clark County. While we need to protect this beautiful region, nothing dampens the aesthetic charm more than not being able to work and provide for your family. People need family-wage jobs. Although some people may disagree with me, I believe we can diversify and grow the economy while still pursuing best practices in caring for the environment and protecting our rural way of life.

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