Hirst failure jeopardizes revenue needed for state collective bargaining contracts

OLYMPIA—Democrats’ failure to prioritize a fix to the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision on water rights is jeopardizing revenue needed for state collective bargaining contracts. The Hirst decision radically departed from decades of past precedent and practice in establishing permitting rules for rural properties to drill wells. The decision makes rural development prohibitively expensive in some areas. The result of the confusion and red tape created by Hirst is that properties impacted lose value—and local and the state governments lose property tax revenue.
In Skagit County, where Hirst-like water restrictions have been in place a few years, water restrictions have devalued more than 780 parcels and lost more than $22 million in value.
I’ve expressed my support for the state collective bargaining contracts several times. But Democrats can’t go around avoiding a clearly needed Hirst fix with a high fiscal impact, and then claim what’s needed for revenue is tax increases. Their failure to get serious about Hirst jeopardizes money needed for state contracts and basic services. State workers should be as irate as rural property owners because it’s going to hit us all.
The fiscal impact of Hirst on local property taxes is up to $200 million over four years as the economy improves. In addition, Hirst is expected to cost the state revenue from reduced real estate excise tax collections and cost jobs and revenue due to foregone construction projects.
Democrats are dismissing Hirst as a rural problem that they don’t need to care about instead of seeing it as a key fix that’s simply restoring fairness to rural property owners, construction workers, local governments and every state employee who would like to see their wages improve.
Failing to fix Hirst is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars away. We can’t afford that, so the question boils down to this: Do the Democrats want to solve this problem that’s been cruelly unfair to rural people and reduced needed revenue for state contracts, or do they want to please Seattle activist groups? As for me, I side with fairness for rural people and fully funding the state contracts. I hope state workers see this and start speaking up for a Hirst fix as well.

State Senator Phil Fortunato is a Republican from Auburn.

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