Lawmakers from our district listed their priorities for the upcoming 2019-20 legislative session during the latest edition of Coffee and Commerce Dec. 5 at the Wenatchee Convention Center.
The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shiloh Burgess served as moderator of the event, where State Rep. Mike Steele (R-Chelan), State Rep. Keith Goehner, (R-Dryden) and State Sen. Brad Hawkins, (R-Wenatchee), shared their vision for the immediate future of our region and our state.
“The economy in our state is holding steady and I don’t anticipate major changes,” said Hawkins, who noted that last year, the Legislature approved all three budgets: operating, transportation and capital and this year, the budgets would only receive minor modifications.
“The transportation budget is probably the one likeliest to receive the most changes,” Hawkins said, noting the passing of car-tab initiative 976 as the reason for most of these changes.
Initiative 976 is expected to trim millions of dollars from the transportation budget and is now being contested in a King County courthouse. In addition to the worries stemming from I-976, legislators spoke of other items in their Olympia to-do list.
“The housing bill will be my top priority,” said Steele, who participated in a legislators’ tour of the Wenatchee Valley last summer, in which they witnessed not just the constructions rising around the area, but also heard of the growing housing crisis in Wenatchee and around the state.
“The whole point of the tour was to get a sense of what we are dealing with in Central Washington,” Steele said. “People making $40,000-$75,000 a year can’t seem to find a place to live.”
Steele added that he hoped to see some of the Senate’s leaders helping push the housing bill through.
Meanwhile, Goehner mentioned the impact of taxes on businesses. “A lot of taxes on business are going to put doubt in mind of the business owners,” he said. Goehner also referenced the continued need for maintenance and preservation of bridges in North Central Washington, including aging structures in the Methow Valley and outside of Cashmere.
The meeting lasted only one hour, but still allowed the lawmakers to field questions from the people in attendance, one of whom quizzed the legislators on their focus on forest management.
“Let us not take the foot off the gas on forest health,” Hawkins said. “It impacts everybody.” He added that the money spent on fighting wildfires could instead go toward preventing them.
“If we spend on fire suppression, we don’t spend on forest health,” he said. “We would like to spend that money on the front end rather than on the back end. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘what are our priorities?’ Even if we have (mild) summers like 2019, we have to keep focus.”
“The bulk of the ownership of forests is at the federal level,” Goehner said. “We have to have a comprehensive plan, a more global approach to everything we do.”
One way to achieve that, Goehner said, is to incorporate all the major players in the discussion, and that includes the federal government.
Hawkins agreed, calling on those in attendance to contact their federal representatives.
“If you interact with (U.S. Rep) Kim Schrier or (U.S. Rep.) Dan Newhouse, anything that you can do to pressure them to give the U.S. Forest Service a swift kick in the rear end, that would be helpful.”
At the end of the meeting Burgess thanked those who showed up to listen to their elected officials, saying “The only time I have seen representative democracy work is when people engage in it.”
The Legislature opens its session on Jan. 13. The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce will have a series of conversations with its Olympia lobbyist Bruce Beckett throughout the session, to inform the chamber members of the session’s progress.