Opinion: Hirst Legislation Inaction

“Morally repugnant”? No, it’s simply what rural families need

The court’s decision has left some families stuck. They’re unable to build on property that they bought before the decision, when new homes had the green light. That’s a big hit to rural economies. The Spokesman-Review noted, “People who purchased property under the old rules now face the prospect of not being able to build on it. Plummeting property values would also impact builders, lenders and county tax collections.”

“Hostage” is in the eye of the beholder
It’s time to do something about it. Senate Republicans in Olympia are trying to fix the problem. They’re vowing not to pass the capital budget (which funds state construction projects) until House Democrats are willing to agree to a Hirst fix.

Gov. Jay Inslee calls that “morally repugnant.” It isn’t – but even if you disagree with Senate Republicans, “morally repugnant” seems a bit much, doesn’t it?

When asked earlier this year about fixing the Hirst problem, Inslee said, “…they ought to focus on McCleary first. We’ve got Hirst, we’ve got all kinds of bills, and we need to get down to business on McCleary first.”

I’ve got great news for him – the general fund budget is passed and the McCleary debate is over for now. Inslee himself said the budget is “above and beyond what I believe is actually required by McCleary.” So isn’t now the time to something about Hirst?

Half-hearted attempt
After much dithering, House Democrats did pass a Hirst-related bill, but it’s limited to helping those families caught in the immediate limbo. It isn’t the broader fix rural areas need (and “rural” in this case is incredibly broad. Hirst halts building in many different communities).

The WPC’s Clark writes:

HB 2239 is no fix at all, postponing the inevitable and undesirable consequences of Hirst until December 31, 2018, conveniently after the next election.

True, it will help the families currently stuck in the middle into a home. But what of the redistributed property taxes, lost rural construction jobs, rising cost of rural home ownership, and loss of funding for major civic functions in rural counties like police, firefighters, schools, and libraries?

Editorial reaction to the Senate Republicans’ stand has been mixed – but how else can legislators from rural areas get Democrats to care about this topic? Some Democratic lawmakers actually like the consequences of the Hirst decision. Others listen to the environmental groups who quietly applaud the way Hirst has quashed development. Those groups would prefer the Legislature leave Hirst as it is.

Some legislators, though, just don’t care about the topic. How to get them to care? Senate Republicans’ are trying the traditional legislative method: holding something else up. Love it or hate it, it seems like the only tool available to shake Olympia’s collective apathy.

Smart Government Washington Opinion -Rob McKenna July 15 2017

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