Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we approach the start of the 2024 legislative session, which gets underway January 8, I am feeling the same sense of urgency I know so many of you are feeling. We face a growing number of problems in Washington state, none of which have been adequately addressed by the Legislature in recent years. In fact, lawmakers have made a number of problems worse. The law on vehicular pursuits comes to mind, which has emboldened criminals while hampering law enforcement. Cap-and-trade, which the governor said would cost drivers pennies, has added as much as 50 cents per gallon to the price of gas. Then you look at violent crime, homelessness, and overdose deaths, all of which are up. Meanwhile, affordable housing is down, as are K-12 test scores. I could go on, diving into forest management, transportation infrastructure, salmon recovery and more, but you get the idea.
For our part, House Republicans have proposed solutions to all of these problems. Unfortunately, we have largely been ignored by those across the aisle, who control large majorities in the House and Senate. Even so, we will never stop working to make your life more affordable, make communities safer, hold state government accountable, and fix the failures we’re seeing. It is imperative that all lawmakers have a greater sense of urgency to help change our state for the better during the 2024 legislative session. I look forward to doing everything I can to be a part of the solution, and will work with anyone who shares that goal.
16 Pierce County mayors speak up on vehicular pursuit law
One of the problems I mentioned above is the law relating to vehicular pursuits. While lawmakers made revisions last year to the initial law passed by Democrats in 2021, our men and women in law enforcement are still prohibited from pursuing stolen vehicles. Recently, 16 mayors in Pierce County came out in unified voice stating the need for that to change. I agree with them. From The News Tribune:
Sixteen mayors in Pierce County have urged state lawmakers to act on an “alarming” increase in local crime, including motor-vehicle thefts and youth offenses, and address what local leaders called the unintended consequences of well-meaning police reforms.
“Recent changes to state laws necessitate additional state investment in public safety,” the mayors wrote in an Oct. 27 letter to the county’s legislative delegation. “The problems we now see with open drug use, increased stolen vehicles, increased property crime, increased eluding from police, and an overall disregard for public safety are not unique to our cities and towns. It is happening everywhere.”
In the letter, the municipal leaders requested five policy considerations for the upcoming legislative session. Among them: tweaking Washington’s controversial police pursuit law to enable law enforcement to chase stolen vehicles.
You can read more here.
Joint Transportation Committee bridge tour
Our state transportation system is facing serious challenges. Old roads, failing bridges, unreliable ferry service, dilapidated railways, inefficient public transportation systems, and more. In September, I had the opportunity to join my fellow lawmakers on the Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) for a three-day tour (the agenda is here) of some of our oldest bridges in Southwest Washington.
While the vast majority of Washington’s 3,377 bridges are rated “good” or “fair” by WSDOT, 8.2% of our bridges are rated “poor.” These were the focus of the tour. We heard from WSDOT officials on the issues these bridges are facing and the need for either strategic maintenance or outright replacement.
In an ideal world, these bridges would be replaced expeditiously. However, we face both funding and workforce challenges that prevent replacement from being an immediate option. As the ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, I have been intently focused on all aspects of transportation, including the funding piece. In 2022, I introduced the Reprioritizing Existing Appropriations for Longevity (REAL) Act, which was aimed at addressing the plateau in transportation revenue we were facing then and continue to face today.
In practice, my plan would:
- Reprioritize and shift funding streams to provide better services for all modes of transportation by using growing general fund revenue instead of relying on shrinking transportation revenue.
- Reprioritize and direct sales tax paid on motor vehicles to preservation and maintenance of the existing transportation system. This is a current bill of mine.
- Reprioritize and shift funding on sales tax paid on transportation projects from the general fund to the transportation budget.
- Recognize fish passage barrier projects as inherently correcting environmental justice concerns without further review and process.
- Create a program that bridges the divide between transportation safety in urban and rural communities.
- Reprioritize and shift the funds for the Safe Routes to School Program to the general fund with direction to better coordinate funding for safe pathways to new schools.
- Prevent barriers to recruitment and employment for Washington State Ferries that are part of current employment practices.
Overall, the REAL Act—or a plan like it—would create a sustainable transportation funding model without raising taxes. Most importantly, it would begin to fix Washington’s transportation system and preserve critical infrastructure for generations to come. As every lawmaker who is involved with transportation knows, the status quo can’t continue. We must redirect our time and energy away from flawed programs and failed ideas, and toward solutions that will provide the preservation, maintenance and construction we need. The clock is ticking.
The Democrats’ cap-and-trade program is hurting Washingtonians
If you take a look at the chart below, you can see how Washington and Oregon had very similar gas prices for much of 2021 and 2022. However, prices diverged in January 2023 when the cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel standard programs passed by Democrats two years ago took effect.
When asked in 2021 if drivers could expect higher gas prices due to the cap-and-trade program, the governor said: “This is going to have a minimal impact, if any. Pennies. We are talking about pennies.”
We are not, in fact, talking about pennies, which is why House Republicans are looking at different options to address the flawed program. Options on the table include:
- Amending some Department of Ecology guidelines as they relate to the program to help reduce carbon credit prices while lowering fuel and natural gas prices.
- Providing a rebate. House Republican Reps. April Connors and Mary Dye have introduced a proposal to offer monetary rebates for vehicle owners to help offset the costs of cap-and-trade. For more on the Carbon Auction Rebate (CAR) Payment program, click here.
Other lawmakers are calling for an outright repeal of cap-and-trade, while still others are supporting a proposal to link our carbon market with California and Quebec in a bid to bring lower costs for companies and savings for consumers. What’s clear is that despite Democratic promises of a program that would have a “minimal impact” on drivers’ wallets, the opposite is true and that must be addressed.
Please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is Andrew.Barkis@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (360) 786-7824.
It is an honor to serve you!