39th legislators get on the line

Local lawmakers talk shop during telephone town hall

Kelly Sullivan

39th District legislators fielded questions on water rights, gun control and taxes during last Wednesday’s telephone town hall meeting.

A majority of residents grieved their increased property tax bill for this year. A Darrington senior’s call became heated when she touched on the prospect of a bigger bill, after all the years property owners have spent supporting the state.

“When is somebody going to come out and visit each one of us, look at our land, and say, ‘Oh, that’s unreasonable?’ ” the 80-year-old asked.

Rep. Carolyn Eslick and Sen. Keith Wagoner joined seasoned official Rep. Dan Kristiansen for the community conversation that took place two weeks prior to the end of the 2018 session. The three Republicans represent rural parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties, as well as a small portion of King County.

The two newcomers are filling seats vacated last year. Former Rep. John Koster left in August, and Eslick was appointed in September. Sen. Kirk Pearson took over as rural development state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November. The Monroe man spent 17 years in the Legislature.

Eslick and Wagoner had to resign as mayors of their respective cities, Sultan and Sedro-Woolley. Wagoner left the call early to participate in the Ways and Means Committee. He also serves on the Economic Development and International Trade Committee.

Eslick is a member of the House Capital Budget and Early Learning and Human Services committees. She sponsored seven bills this session, with one making it to the floor. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would be required to give communities more notice before relocating wildlife if it passes.

Kristiansen is from Snohomish, and has represented the district since the early 2000s, when he and Eslick ran for the same seat. He said more than 4,000 bills have been proposed in the past two sessions.

“So, there’s a lot of ideas down here,” he said.

The three officials tended to have similar responses to last Wednesday’s callers. They all strongly encourage protecting the Second Amendment. Kristiansen said every year he sees proposals that would infringe on those rights.

Eslick said those debates can keep lines open for conversation. She pointed to the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed. President Donald Trump suggested arming trained staff with guns as a solution following the incident.

There are other problems that coincide with the issue of gun control, Eslick said, including gang violence, economic disparities and mental illness. Kids are playing video games up to eight hours a day, she said, asking, “What does that do to their mind?” The importance of the family unit and parents setting stricter boundaries needs to be reinforced. While it is important lawmakers respond, it is perhaps more important society take a more active role, she said. 

The three officials also agreed property owners were taking on more burden than is necessary. Kristiansen said the government has issues with spending; not how much is coming in. He discouraged the carbon tax Gov. Jay Inlee has been supporting for years.

The proposal would tax the release of carbon pollution, according to his office. It would also provide incentives for the development of clean energy alternatives and help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“I haven’t seen anything positive it can do for the environment, but it’s really making a detriment for my pocketbook,” a Lake Stevens resident said.

Kristiansen and his colleagues “have no appetite” to raise taxes any further during this session. District residents are already expecting property tax bills that will be 20-30 percent higher this year, he said.

“We have plenty of money down here to provide some relief in property taxes, while at the same time living up to our constitutional obligations that we’ve got,” he said.

Often lawmakers who support these policies aren’t familiar with the rural regions they are regulating, Kristiansen said. The majority are living in metropolitan areas. He said he is still fighting for a group of district property owners, who will feel the repercussions of another law that passed this session.

Kristiansen is referring to the 2016 Hirst decision, which shifted the responsibility of permitting wells on private property from the Washington Department of Ecology to the counties. Democrats and Republicans struggled to agree on a compromise to the case. A resolution to the state’s capital budget was also bound to the outcome.

“County officials said they lacked the resources to conduct such studies, and consequently stopped issuing new building permits,” according to the Washington Policy Center. “That left rural property owners unable to build homes or develop their land.”

In a radio interview Eslick gave earlier this year, which was reposted by the Washington State House Republicans, she said the policy resulted in effectively holding people’s water rights hostage. It is just the beginning, she said.

The new law was specifically meant to regulate wells that use 5,000 gallons or fewer of water per day. It was intended to protect fish habitat and watersheds. Eslick said homeowners in Snohomish County will now have limitations closer to 950 gallons per day.

Eslick voted against the compromise bill, as did Wagoner. She said she wanted district residents to know this was not a good deal for them. Kristiansen voted in favor, but was overall against the result. The 2017-19 capital budget was passed following the vote, and Inslee agreed to sign both bills.

“It is, however, extremely unfortunate and, frankly, irresponsible, that for nearly a year Republicans stalled those projects and refused to vote on the $4.2 billion capital budget by linking it to passage of an unrelated effort to address the Supreme Court’s Hirst ruling on water right,” Inslee said in a Jan. 18 news release. “Their delay in passing the capital budget comes with many costs, monetary and otherwise.”

The issue is still not resolved for district homeowners, Kristiansen said. Some of his constituents in Skagit County were completely left out of the resolution. Their property values will tank, surrounding property owners will have to pick up the difference in taxes, and they will be unable to develop the land they worked hard to pay for. It was purely a political decision, he said.

The session is scheduled to end March 8.



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