YAKIMA — Rural Democrats may join Republicans on specific issues but don’t expect them to give Republicans a majority in the state Legislature, a legislative watcher says.
Democrats will control the state Senate by one vote starting in January and already control the House by one vote. While such thin margins have caused switch overs in the past don’t expect it next year. That’s what Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, told attendees at the Washington Farm Bureau 97th annual meeting at the Yakima Convention Center, Nov. 15.
Democrats are talking about passing a state capital budget but they still need 60 percent so it probably will remain in stalemate over the unpopular state Supreme Court Hirst ruling on water, said Myers, a former executive team member of the state Department of Natural Resources and author of “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.”
The Hirst decision is shutting down development by requiring studies for authorization of new wells. Senate Republicans, in control until they lost a seat in the Nov. 7 election, refused to pass a capital budget without relief from the Hirst decision.
“Will it be the fix we all want? It will not. I can tell you that right now. There will be elements we will all cringe on but it will be better than what it is now,” Myers said of any legislative Hirst resolution. He also said it won’t happen anytime soon.
Myers said he and a couple other members of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council were able to dissuade the council from working for legislation to codify the Hirst decision. He mentioned that as an example of what the Washington Research Council, an independent, nonprofit think tank, is doing through its new agricultural component.
He said the Building Industry Association of Washington estimates a $37 billion loss in property values in the state due to the inability to drill wells from the Hirst decision.
“Even if the number is half that, it’s a huge cost and compared to the benefit is excessive,” he said.
The state Department of Ecology has said domestic well use is about 1 percent of total consumptive water use in the state so curtailing well expansion doesn’t save a lot of water, he said. While more water in streams help reduce water temperature for fish, it’s hard, he said, to evaluate the connection between wells, streams, temperatures and fish, making it hard to abide by the ruling.
“The frustrating thing to me is the ruling is very divisive and has set us back in working to solve water issues. That’s as high a cost as the financial cost,” he said.
The Washington Policy Center is also very interested in trade and labor issues and recognizes that Washington is one of the most trade dependent states in the nation, Myers said.
He said the center helped the farm labor association WAFLA with a study, released in August, on the economic benefit of H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers.
“It frustrates me when people worry about illegal immigration. I say farmers in Eastern Washington want to do it the right way but also need labor,” he said.
Farmers need to more actively tell their stories about being good stewards of the land, Myers said.
“People on the left surround themselves with concrete, steel and asphalt and conservatives surround themselves with nature. They need to be more active in saying they want to leave a good environment, the land as good or better for future generations,” he said.