COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD – RICHARD BYRD
OLYMPIA — In light of a new report detailing the financial impacts of legislative inaction on the Hirst decision, Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and 21 members of the Senate Majority Coalition are urging Gov. Jay Inslee to take action.
In Whatcom County v. Hirst the Washington Supreme Court ruled counties have an obligation to determine if well drilling has an effect on surface water before allowing permit-exempt wells to be drilled. Lawmakers have attempted to answer questions that have been raised by the decision, but a bill passed by the Senate did not make it to a vote in the House.
Local lenders, including Washington Federal, have stated they will limit loans on properties without legal water. The legislature has been attempting to find a bipartisan solution in light of Hirst, with talks stalling and holding up the passing of the state’s capital budget. In the wake of a new study by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) detailing the costs of legislative inaction on Hirst, Warnick, along with 21 members of the Senate Majority Coalition, urged Inslee to take action on Hirst.
“We need leadership from the governor and for legislators to take this issue seriously,” Warnick said. “This is not just a rural issue. Not fixing Hirst will hurt the entire state and this new study demonstrates the impacts will be significant.”
The BIAW’s report estimates the following impacts if no action is taken on Hirst by the legislature:
• $6.9 billion loss in economic activity every year.
• $452.3 million lost in employee wages annually.
• Almost 9,300 jobs lost in rural Washington annually.
• $392.7 million in lost taxes annually to state and local governments.
• $4.59 billion in annual losses to the construction industry.
• $37 billion in lost property values in locations that are impacted by Hirst.
• $346 million lost in property taxes relocated to other properties in the state.
The Republican-led Senate approved Senate Bill 5239, which was sponsored by Warnick, four times during the 2017 legislative session. The bill is designed to allow local governments to work with the Department of Ecology to determine where water could possibly be available for development. The Democratic-led House never brought the legislation to the floor for a vote and never introduced a proposal.
“Fixing Hirst would also open a path for a capital budget and the many worthy projects it will fund, including water management projects. Ultimately, the legislature’s plan for addressing the Hirst decision and passing a capital budget must be about setting priorities,” reads the letter to Inslee. “Both bills are vital to our state. However, rural families seeking to build a home on their property should take precedence over investment in government buildings. A real Hirst solution must come first.”