WPC: Coming SCOTUS decision could be big for Eastern Washington

The Washington Policy Center discusses US Supreme Court case Sackett vs EPA on the extend of the EPA’s power to regulate land that gets wet.

The Sackett family has spent the past 15 years in the courts disputing the Environmental Protection Agency’s blocking their right to build a home on land they own near Priest Lake, Idaho.

This past October, the U.S. Supreme Court opened its doors for the public to listen in on oral arguments for the first time in 21/2 years since the original COVID lockdown in March 2020. The first case on the docket was theirs, Sackett v. EPA, the outcome of which will have profound implications for the future of rural communities in Eastern Washington and across the country.

The EPA alleges the Sackett’s residential lot is a federally protected wetland under EPA jurisdiction. Sackett v. EPA asks the Supreme Court to clarify the scope of the EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. The court’s decision should of course be the final say on whether the Sacketts can build their proposed home, but it will also have sweeping implications on whether the EPA can expand the definition of “navigable waters” to include any semi-soggy lowland, ditch or parcel of land across the country.

Many will remember the saga of the Obama administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States – or WOTUS – rule. As a young staffer on Capitol Hill at the time, seared into my memory is how serious the regulatory uncertainty was for the agricultural community under the proposed rule, threatening to turn every ditch, puddle, or creek into a federally protected “navigable waterway.” The drastic expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction in the rule was characterized as one of the most egregious oversteps by the federal government in history. Fortunately, the courts agreed and blocked its implementation.

Yet predictably the federal government continues to do its best to exert its regulatory might. Even as we await the court’s decision on Sackett, the Biden administration has barreled forward with their own rulemaking – essentially, WOTUS 2.0 – by introducing a new rule on the last business day of 2022 to expand the definition of navigable waters and again threaten rural America’s way of life.

While the Obama WOTUS rule was blocked by the courts, the Biden administration has now sought to codify a serpentine rule that avoids the legal landmines of the original WOTUS.

There was simply no reason for the Biden administration to move forward on this exercise when they knew the court would be issuing a ruling on this very matter. It only serves to cause further uncertainty for the American farmer and rancher.

Unfortunately, it’s not just bad ideas at the federal-level that are rearing their ugly heads to come after our water and threaten our agricultural lands. Legislation similar to the riparian “buffer bill” introduced during the last legislative session in Olympia has been reintroduced this week. The bill (HB 1838) – which would have exponentially cut off productive farmlands across the state while exempting urban areas – faced overwhelming public outcry and eventually did not receive a vote. Yet, it’s back again.

As Washington Policy Center’s new Eastern Washington director, it is my charge to help tell of the impacts of these misguided measures and to ensure the communities east of the Cascades have a voice in Olympia. Why is it that those who decry “big agriculture” and so-called “factory farms” are the same people who do everything they can to put the family farmer out of business?

At the core of Eastern Washington’s economy and identity is agriculture – our region’s farmers feed the country and the world. Our elected leaders in Olympia and Washington, D.C., must recognize that.

I was proud to work on efforts supporting the Sacketts’ case and was humbled to hear the arguments made before the Supreme Court in person this past October. It is my hope the court will finally provide the certainty rural America has long deserved and the victory the Sackett family has waited too long for.

WPC: Normal Governance to Return to Washington on October 31

The Washington Policy Center reports on Governor Inslee’s announcement that he is ending 900 days of his COVID emergency order.

Governor Inslee announced today that he will finally end governing under an emergency order, after more than 900 days, on October 31. When the legislature next convenes it should ensure that this type of ongoing emergency governance without affirmative legislative approval never happens again. Whether or not you agree or disagree with every decision the Governor has made for the last 900-plus days, the fact remains these decisions with vast impact on individuals and businesses were made behind closed doors in the executive branch.

It is true that in an emergency, governors need broad powers to act fast. Legislative bodies inevitably take longer to assemble and act than a single executive, so they temporarily delegate their power to the executive in emergencies. But these powers are supposed to be transferred for a limited period of time with meaningful legislative oversight of the decisions made.

Earlier this summer, Court of Appeals Judge Bernard Veljacic (appointed by Governor Inslee) wrote this dissent in a case concerning emergency powers:

“Even so, I am not convinced that the legislature, in making the grant of authority, anticipated such a broad and lengthy imposition of emergency health measures when it first enacted chapter 43.06 RCW. It is true that our Supreme Court has recognized that the broad grant of authority ‘evidence[s] a clear intent by the legislature to delegate requisite police power to the governor in times of emergency.’ But this begs the question: ‘for how long’?

Certainly, while initial executive response to emergencies should be robust and unhindered by the burden of administrative or legislative oversight, this should not be the case over a longer period of time. Of course, in the early days of an emergency, Washingtonians would suffer if required to wait on the executive to set a legislative session, assemble the necessary quorum, and oversee a vote on a course of action. But at some point, over the long term, an emergency grows less emergent. After all, time allows for the opportunity to reflect. That same opportunity should include legislative review.

In all instances, we must be careful with such broad grants of authority. We would do well to employ a healthy skepticism of such authority upon objective consideration of who might possibly wield it at some point, or what they might deem an emergency.”

Long-lasting emergency orders should receive the input and affirmative approval of lawmakers following a public process, allowing the perfection of policies through a collaborative weighing of all the options, alternatives and tradeoffs. This is precisely why the people’s legislative branch of government exists – to deliberate and provide guidance to the executive branch on what policies should be in place and how to implement them.

There is a very simple fix the legislature should make next session to restore balance to the state’s emergency powers framework. Harmonizing the existing law so that both waiving of statute and restrictive proclamations expire after 30 days unless the legislature votes to continue should not be controversial. There is no logical reason to treat those emergency actions by the Governor differently.

Requiring affirmative legislative approval after a set point in time removes not a single tool from the Governor’s toolbox. All existing authority remains, the only change is that the closed-door policymaking is required to be justified to the people’s legislative branch of government to continue a policy (i.e., the separations of power and checks and balances envisioned and promised under our republican form of government).

The Governor should not fear being required to make the case to lawmakers why a particular emergency restriction is appropriate to continue, and the legislature should not hide from its constitutional responsibility to debate and adopt policy. At some point the executive branch should be required to receive permission from the legislative branch to continue making far-reaching policies under an emergency order.

Our system of governance is not meant to be the arbitrary rule of one behind closed doors. Judge Veljacic is correct that ‘we must be careful with such broad grants of authority.’ An emergency order should never last more than 900 days unless it has received affirmative authorization for continuation by the legislative branch of government. The legislature must still act to restore the balance of powers for future use of emergency orders.Sign up for the WPC Newsletter

WA Policy Center: Effects of Emergency-ordered School Closures on Children

The Washington Policy Center has released on study titled The effect of emergency-ordered school closings, learning loss and mask mandates on children. Here are the key findings:

1. The governor’s decision to close public schools for nearly two years in response to COVID-19 significantly affected Washington’s 1.1 million public school students.

2. Research shows many students suffered long-term learning loss and psychological and emotional harm, resulting in limited future opportunities in life.

3. State test scores show public schools failed to adequately educate 70 percent of students in math and 52 percent of students in English.

4. Low-income students were most severely affected, with 8,700 fewer such students applying for state-funded college scholarships.

5. Some public schools have dropped standard grading and are automatically passing all students, regardless of the true level of learning they have received.

6. High school students suffered academic, mental and social harms due to enforced isolation from normal community, athletic and school-related activities.

7. Public health findings show the negative educational and social effects of shut-down orders were greater for this very low-risk group than the limited risk of exposure to COVID-19.

8. The 1.1 million students who attend public schools are being automatically promoted to the next grade. 


Governor Inslee responded to the national COVID health crisis by closing the public schools in Washington state to in-person instruction from March 2020 to September 2021, and allowing them to re-open sporadically the fall of 2021. Governor Inslee also mandated the use of masks and other face covering, and implemented social distancing rules in daycares and schools from March 2020 to March of 2022.

As a result of these three policies – school closures, masks mandates and social distancing, the 1.1 million students attending Washington’s public schools had their education disrupted for nearly two years.

The stated reason for imposing these policies was to slow or stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Recent studies have raised questions about whether or to what extent these extreme measures provided a public health benefit. There is no question, however, that these policies had a severe impact on children. This study reviews the human outcomes of school closures, mask mandates and social distancing and the impact they had on the social and learning losses experienced by children in Washington state…

Click here to read the entire study.

WA Policy Center: State’s new tax on CO2 emissions projected to add 46 cents per gallon to the cost of gas

The Washington Policy Center reports on the effects of a new CO2 emissions tax on the price of gas.

Key Takeaways:

State’s new tax on CO2 emissions is projected to add 46 cents per gallon to 2023 gas prices

An increase of 56 cents per gallon is projected for 2023 diesel prices

By 2030, the new tax is expected to add 80 cents per gallon of gas

By 2030, the new tax is projected to add 97 cents per gallon of diesel

Current state gas tax is 49.4 cents per gallon, so the new tax is projected to nearly double taxes on gasoline paid by Washington residents

Fiscal note on the cap-and-trade bill projected a $20.60 cost per metric ton of carbon emissions, a fraction of what the state Department of Ecology now predicts

Environmental activists seek to remove protections from the cap-and-trade bill for energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries (EITE)

Through 2026, EITEs are exempt from the tax on CO2 emissions. Starting in 2027, 97% of their emissions would be exempt. Denying exemption timeline could mean business failure and reliance on Chinese alternatives that pay little and cause environmental and human rights harm

Washington state’s new tax on CO2 emissions is projected to add 46 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas as soon as next year, the state Department of Ecology reports.   

The Washington Research Council noted that an analysis from Vivid Economics and McKinsey & Company for Ecology projected the cost of a metric ton (MT) of CO2 to be $58.31 next year. That would add a tax of about 52 cents per gallon or just over 46 cents per gallon for fuels required to include 10% ethanol in accordance with Washington state law. For diesel, the tax on CO2 emissions would increase the cost of a gallon by about 59 cents per gallon, or 56 cents per gallon for fuels that include 5% biodiesel.

That amount would climb to $100.23 per MT in 2030, equating to 89 cents per gallon, or 80 cents per gallon for the 10% ethanol mix. For diesel, it would add more than a dollar, $1.02, per gallon, or 97 cents for diesel mixed with biofuel.

This is significantly higher than the $20.60/MT used in the previous projection given to legislators in the state’s fiscal note on the cap-and-trade bill, which agency staff called “conservative” at the time. Rather than a tax on CO2, the state system would sell permits to emitters for each MT of CO2, creating an artificial market. As a result, prices can fluctuate significantly, as these new estimates demonstrate.

The current state gas tax is 49.4 cents per gallon, so this would nearly double the amount of taxes Washington residents have to pay for gasoline…(article continues)

Washington Policy Center: Trust Your Neighbors but Identify Your Cattle

Pam Lewison at the Washington Policy Center discusses Electronic Cattle Transaction Reporting (ECTR) related (“identified cattle”) inspection fee reductions and their disproportionate effect on dairy and small cattle operations who don’t use ECTR (“unidentified cattle”) in Trust Your Neighbors but Identify Your Cattle.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is proposing a cost cut for livestock brand inspections for “identified cattle” from $1.30 per animal to $0.80 per animal and is set to host a hearing May 24 on the topic.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the cost cut will save livestock producers money and maintain the solvency of the livestock inspection program at the same time.

The saying in cattle country goes, “trust your neighbors but brand your cattle.” 

The problem our state faces is the need to both identify livestock and log animal disease traceability information at the same time. Brands are a useful and necessary tool for animals that spend a portion of their lives away from the watchful eyes of their owners. RFID or EID tags are ear tags that provide a digital storage mechanism for animal disease traceability.

Washington state is home to some 9,000 ranch families raising approximately 230,000 head of beef cattle. In addition to our robust beef industry, there are more than 400 dairies in Washington state housing approximately 275,000 dairy cows. The care and raising of these animals vary based upon the practices of the livestock owner but, generally, beef cattle are on range pasture for a portion of the year while dairy cattle are handled every day.

The inspection cost-cutting proposal from WSDA is only applicable to “identified” cattle, or cattle that have an RFID/EID tag and may be branded. Leaving “unidentified” cattle, or cattle that do not have an RFID/EID tag or a brand, still set to pay a fee of $4 per animal. The proposal notes the goal is to wean livestock producers off the need to have inspectors present for private cattle sales and incentivize them to use the ECTR system instead.

However, it still disproportionately punishes dairy operators and small livestock operations, neither of which have a particular incentive to brand their cattle or use an RFID/EID tag, by not addressing the $4 per animal fee for all unidentified cattle.

The livestock inspection department should set a single flat rate for all cattle to better encourage use of RFID/EID tags and logging of private sales via ECTR. A single per animal fee may help foster the use of RFID/EID tags by livestock owners who have resisted the transition from a blank plastic tag to the electronic tags.

Unlike many cattle-heavy states and our direct neighbors, Washington hasn’t figured out how to create an inspection system based on a flat fee per animal. Several other western states – Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, and Colorado – all charge a flat fee per animal with an additional call-out service fee for any inspections that occur on a ranch rather than in a sale barn. The flat fees charged range in price from $0.55 per head (Colorado) to $1.19 per head (Idaho). Other fees like check-off assessments and animal disease traceability are also added on to those costs…(continues)

WA Policy Center: State officials consider mandating COVID vaccines for child care and school children

Elizabeth Hovde reports on a recent State Board of Health advisory group meeting in State officials consider mandating COVID vaccines for child care and school children:

…The advisory group is helping the State Board of Health consider whether to add COVID-19 to the list of “vaccine-preventable diseases” for children under Chapter 246-105  of the Washington Administrative Code.  

That move is interesting in itself. COVID-19 is not a vaccine-preventable disease, so it is not clear to me that the board has the authority to mandate a COVID vaccine for children. That puts the advisory group in an awkward position, as does being tasked with providing advice based on incomplete information about a vaccine that only some children have only recently had available to them. 

The entire advisory process seems set up to fail. The biggest takeaway I got from the meeting was “we don’t know enough yet.”  

Answers from presenters in the meeting included, “I don’t have great information for you there,” and, “There are not any published studies comparing what you’re asking.” It was also mentioned that there are “break-through cases,” in which vaccinated people can transmit and spread COVID-19. 

State Board of Health Vice-Chair Dr. Tom Pendergrass was at the meeting and clearly seemed to favor imposing such a mandate. The advisory group’s work Thursday, he said, “reflects that we’re believing that there is a rationale for trying to vaccinate school-age children.”  

Pendergrass and other board members should be worried about the strong feelings of parents and the general public on COVID-related mandates. Those strong feelings are contributing to the growing trend of families leaving public education. A Feb. 4 report from the Washington state Caseload Forecast Council shows a marked decline in public school enrollment, as families opt for homeschooling, charter schools and private schools.   

Thursday’s public meeting started with pieces of sound advice from several of the advisory group members. The very first one was, “Don’t worry about making the best decision, make a reasonable decision. And avoid bad decisions.”  

That’s good advice for the advisory group to heed. Bad decisions are harder to avoid when you don’t have sufficient information…

Washington Policy Center: Risk of Texas-style Blackouts in Washington Is Real and Growing

The Washington Policy Center reports that the risk of Texas-style blackouts in Washington is real and growing based on soon-to-close coal-fired electrical generators and projected increases in demand, among other reasons.

Key Findings

1. The recent blackouts in Texas have increased awareness of the need for reliable sources of electricity.

2. The risk of a power shortage in Washington is already slightly above the acceptable standard of 5 percent for Loss of Load Probability (LOLP).

3. That risk increases dramatically in the upcoming years, reaching 26 percent in 2026.

4. A new assessment being completed by the NW Power and Conservation Council could find the risk is even higher than that.

5. Removing the four Lower Snake River dams would cause that already high risk to increase even more.

6. Reducing the LOLP to an acceptable level in our state will be challenging given the limits on building new dispatchable energy sources like hydro and natural gas.


The recent electrical blackouts in Texas have sparked a great deal
of discussion about how society can provide a predictable supply of
electricity while reducing the environmental impact of producing energy.
The costs of getting policies wrong, as has been demonstrated in Texas
and California, can lead to expensive and deadly outcomes.

Although Washington State has a very different energy mix and utility
system, the experience in Texas is a good reminder of how state leaders
should assess the resiliency of our electricity generation and the grid’s
ability to withstand a serious winter storm.

What is the outlook for the stability of Washington’s electrical supply?
Currently, the risk of blackouts is slightly higher than is acceptable and
the danger will get much worse in the near future. The high risk is a
warning that the state’s energy policy should not ignore reliability.

Power outages in Texas

Several factors contributed to the outages in Texas.

The basic cause of the outages was a storm that caused winter demand
to hit an all-time high during the night of February 14, 2021. Soon after
midnight on February 15th the electrical system could not meet demand
and rolling blackouts were initiated by the grid manager, a Texas state
agency known as ERCOT, causing the big drop in natural gas generation
and a smaller drop in coal generation. Home heating has priority over
electrical generation for supplies of natural gas, so a loss of fuel could
have contributed to the reduction in natural gas generation. With high
demand and struggling supply, the frequency of the alternating current
dropped below 60 Hertz to a level that required some facilities be shut
down to prevent equipment damage.

Additionally, once the winter weather moved in, the amount of wind energy
available declined significantly. In the week before the storm, variable wind
generation ranged from 3,000 megawatt hours (MWh) to 21,000 MWh. When the
storm moved in, that range narrowed to a maximum of 9,000 MWh to below 1,000
MWh. Some have noted that ERCOT only planned for about 6,000 MWh of wind,
so the reduction was not unexpected. That is true, but that left nuclear, coal, and
(mostly) natural gas – i.e. dispatchable electricity (because it can be dispatched
when needed) – to meet the extremely high demand for power.

Rising risk of blackouts in Washington State

Could a similar situation, with dispatchable energy unable to keep up
with demand, happen in Washington State? The chances of that scenario are,
unfortunately, increasing.

To estimate the chance that outages or electricity shortfalls could occur, the
Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) calculates the annual Loss
Of Load Probability (LOLP), which is the “the likelihood (probability) that system
demand will exceed the generating capacity during a given period.”

It is important to keep in mind that a loss of load could simply mean that grid
managers ask major industrial users of electricity to shut down or reduce demand.
It does not necessarily mean what we saw in Texas. Additionally, reducing the risk
that electricity supply falls short can mean adding generating resources that may
be idle much of the time. Generation that is only used when demand is very high
means the cost of the electricity will be very high. So, while we could, theoretically,
push the LOLP to near zero, doing so would be very expensive…(continues)

Click here for PDF of report.

Washington Policy Center: Relationship status with ESSB 5172 – It’s complicated

Washington Policy Center updates us on SB5172, which is titled “Concerning the retroactivity of overtime claims in exceptional cases” and supposed to stabilize the state’s agricultural workers and economy, in Relationship status with ESSB 5172: It’s complicated.

Legislation (ESSB 5172) that would protect Washington farmers from a potentially catastrophic court ruling on retroactive pay, passed out of the Washington State Senate by a vote of 37-12 at the 11th hour last night with some significant changes to its language. Democratic State Senators hailed it as a victory for modernizing agriculture by ushering in a 40-hour work week. Republican Senators expressed concerns during the floor debate on the revisions to the bill.

What does the bill do now?

The bill as passed last night provides “that the safe harbor provision applies to all dairy employers, except members in the class of plaintiffs in Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, 196 Wn.2d 506 (2020).” It also provides protection from overtime lawsuits to all other agricultural employers.

The bill also removed provisions for compensatory accounts that would have provided $5,000 payments to any farmworker who had logged 1,300 working hours on a farm during any 12-month period between 2017 and 2024.

What is next?

The bill moves to the Washington State House where it will likely be assigned to the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee for consideration and refinement.

What needs to be refined?

The Senate debate highlighted some concerns about the bill that can be worked through in the House.

The notion of a 40-hour work week is difficult to imagine for most people in agriculture. The shift has already occurred in the dairy sector and has caused some unintended consequences that have hurt dairy employees. In some cases, hours have been capped at 40, leaving dairy employees with no overtime hours and less income than when they were working 55 hours a week.

There was little dispute about a phased in approach to paying time-and-a-half to farmworkers throughout the agricultural community. However, lowering the threshold for when that time-and-a-half is triggered to 40 hours simply cuts overtime pay out of the equation for most employers.

A better solution would be to either raise the threshold for when overtime wages are paid for all industry sectors with the exception of dairy, where the decision was made by the court, or create exemptions for seasonal needs. There are six other states in the U.S. with agricultural overtime wage provisions, all of them have hours thresholds that are 48 hours or more or grant exemptions during growing and harvest seasons.

In addition to concerns about the time-and-a-half threshold, some issues of non-wage compensation were raised during the Senate floor debate. In a food-centric community, it is not uncommon for employers to gift employees with Thanksgiving meals to feed their entire families or the equivalent of half a cow in frozen beef. These gifts to employees are not considered official wages but they are considered business expenses. So, how then, do agricultural employers rectify bonuses of that nature when the resources previously used to make such purchases will likely need to be set aside for time-and-a-half payments should they arise?

The same question must be raised for housing. Some farms offer on-site housing as part of a wage package. Offering housing to farmworkers is mutually beneficial. Farmworkers are not commuting and saving money that would otherwise be spent on rent. Agricultural employers are maintaining a workforce closer to their farm or ranch and ensuring their employees have access to a safe place to live. How does one calculate time-and-a-half on a W-2 when providing a home to an employee and his or her family?

There are several questions yet to be answered about ESSB 5172. But yesterday’s vote was not about presenting a perfect bill on the floor of the Senate; it wasn’t even about having all the answers. Yesterday’s vote was about keeping the hope of the original intention behind SB 5172 alive.

Now it is time to put our proverbial boots back on and get the next round of questions answered before bills from the opposite chamber can no longer be considered on April 11.

Capital Press: Agriculture is fighting for survival in Washington state

The following is a commentary published in the Capital Press, written by Pam Lewison of the Washington Policy Center – Agriculture is fighting for survival in Washington state

Some moments lend themselves to hyperbole. That amazing fishing trip from seven years ago; the winning free throw at a high school basketball game; the marriage proposal when time stood still.

Or 2020, when Washington agriculture was fighting for its life after a court ruling forced the dairy sector to begin paying time-and-a-half and left the specter of retroactive pay lingering in the background like an unwanted flu just before vacation.

In our state, we are waging a war about how best to determine what “just” compensation looks like in the wake of the Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy court decision of November 2020. The dairy sector has its answer from the courts: dairy producers must pay time-and-a-half for any hours worked after 40. The rest of the agricultural community will have to wait and see what comes of the legislative session to determine how to move forward on the question of what constitutes a “work-week” in agriculture.

The ruling, however, left open the possibility of payment of more wages for past work. To be clear, the plaintiffs in the case were paid in full for their work. Any “back pay” would be applying the current law — time-and-a-half rules — to work done in the past. Specifically, it would be imposing a retroactive punishment against the DeRuyter Brothers Dairy for following the law at the time.

A bill in Olympia, SSB 5172, would make farmers pay again for work done three years ago, with 12% annual interest added on as a punishment. Any funds that could not be distributed to former employees by employers would be placed in an escrow account for six years while the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries attempted to locate the individuals involved in the claims. This is not a fix.

The original language of SSB 5172 — “the legislature intends to limit the retroactive effect of court decisions concerning overtime wage claims by delineating factors that establish inequitable results. When considering whether to award retroactive pay in a cause of action seeking overtime pay … the court is prohibited from making such an award when the award would create a substantially inequitable result” — acted as a protective mechanism for all overtime exempt employers; effectively banning lawsuits seeking retroactive payments. That is a fix. A fix for all overtime exempt employers, not just agricultural employers, because it wouldn’t punish employers for following the law.

As lawsuits pile up — more than 30 at last count — the rest of the agricultural community must entertain the very real possibility of paying time-and-a-half just as the dairy sector is doing now.

The prospect of retroactive pay creates an urgent existential crisis for the dairy sector in Washington state. Conservative estimates for the economic effect on the industry suggest it would cost our dairy producers $2 billion should nothing be done to stop this egregious injustice.

There is no more symbiotic relationship than the one between agricultural employers and their employees. It is based upon both parties working in harmony. Without farmworkers, farms would cease to be the cost-effective, efficient marvels they are in today’s economy. Without farms, farmworkers would cease to find themselves with reliable work at wages well above the state’s minimum wage.

Odd-numbered years are 105-day legislative marathons in Washington state. The long session is the saving grace for agriculture this time around. There is still time to negotiate, still time to make our voices and stories heard.

It is not the natural habit of farmers to discuss their business with the public. That is, in part, what got us into this mess in the first place. But it is absolutely essential that we put our habits aside and fight for our employees and our businesses by telling the truth about what we do.

Farmers and ranchers and their employees are a family, a community, and in this moment, when we need each other the most, we must make our voices heard and tell our individual and collective stories to anyone who will listen.

Washington Policy Center: U-Haul’s yearly move-out report shows surge of people leaving Washington state

According to the Washington Policy Center U-Haul’s yearly move-out report shows surge of people leaving Washington state.

British historian Thomas Macaulay famously said, “The best government is one that desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make  them happy.”

That standard is clearly not what people are experiencing in Washington state.  For years leaders in state government have been increasing the tax burden and imposing ever-tighter regulations that limit personal opportunity, lower household incomes, and fall hardest on working people, middle-class families and small business owners.  On top of that statewide trend, Washington recently experienced deadly political violence in its largest city, accompanied by rising crime, public camping and drug use, and similar signs of widespread lawlessness.

We all know that bad government makes people want to leave, but how does one measure that exactly?  One method is to use U.S. Census estimates.  Another is to track income tax filings with the IRS.  For independent researchers, however, these government sources include flaws and are often out of date.

There is one data source, though, showing where people are moving that is highly accurate and reported in near-real time; U-Haul rentals.  Because rented trucks, trailers and moving vans have to be returned locally after use, U-Haul knows exactly where its customers are moving to, and just as importantly, from what states they are fleeing.

And because it is the largest do-it-yourself mover, this private company is in the best position to reflect current national trends.  To preserve the privacy of its customers, U-Haul only reports anonymous aggregate data, never personal information.

The latest annual report from U-Haul on some two million, one-way household moves in 2020 shows Washington dropping precipitously from the coveted number five spot as most desired place to live all the way down to number 36.  That position of unpopularity is not as bad as California’s, at number 50, but it is a long way from top-ranked Tennessee, Texas and Florida as the most-sought destinations for one-way U-Haul movers.

The three most popular states on the list have one good policy factor in common; none of them impose a tax on personal income.  Washington state has the same advantage, which is likely the single greatest reason our state hasn’t seen even more people move away.

Still, to fall 31 places in one year is no compliment and reflects the fact that, in a year that was tough on everyone, people in Washington had it tougher than most.  The governor’s emergency executive orders, issued in March, remain firmly in place, with little sign of wider economic opening, easing of social restrictions or a return to normal public school operations (although most private schools have managed to open and operate under social-distancing restrictions).

The result is an economic and emotional strain that feels worse every passing week.  While other states and even whole countries are progressively opening their economies with health guidelines, Washington, California and others remain in a limited lock-down.

When health conditions improve and COVID restrictions are over things will undoubtedly improve, but our underlying high-tax, high-regulation governing policies will remain.  The health crisis is temporary, but with the structural burden of poor governance Washington is likely to continue to fall down the list, until one day we may earn the unhappy distinction of becoming the number one place people want to leave.

Of course our elected leaders hopefully will choose a better path, building on our having no income tax, the natural beauty of our region and our friendly communities to add more good reasons for people to move to, instead of away from, the Evergreen State.

WA Policy Center: State Superintendent – Schools Don’t Need “a Ton” More Money

The Washington Policy Center reports on recent comments from an interview by State School Superintendent Chris Reykdal in State superintendent says schools don’t need “a ton” more money; says some high school students should have access to school choice

Recently on TVW’s show Inside Olympia, Austin Jenkins interviewed state superintendent Chris Reykdal about the COVID-19 school shutdown and the upcoming legislative session.

Surprisingly, Superintendent Reykdal admitted his own son is “struggling mightily” under remote instruction.  He called for a vocational program based on school choice, so students can attend a vocational school or take apprenticeship training.

This is similar to the popular Running Start choice program, under which students take their funding to a community college. He said high school students should be able to control their own education funding.

Reykdal also said he won’t be asking the legislature for a “ton” more money for the public schools. He admitted the way schools spend money is more important than the amount of money the system gets, and shared a personal story about the impact of the COVID school shutdown on his own family.

Here are the key exchanges:

Austin Jenkins:

“What are you hearing about this, and how alarmed are you, that [middle and high school] kids are literally flunking out, failing, because of this remote learning situation?” (At 17:45)

Chris Reykdal:

“I am bothered by it. I am living it right now as a parent of two teenagers, who have historically been very successful academically, taking advanced courses, including AP courses and college level courses while in high school.  And I have one of them who is struggling mightily in classes, that never would have been the situation if they had been face-to-face. So how did this happen? Number one, we gave very clear advice to districts to limit the number of learning standards ….and a lot of great educators made that transition, and I think some of them didn’t, and still try to cover too much content…..I would never design a school system around remote learning.” (At 18:23)

Austin Jenkins:

“What will the 2021 session look like for your agency?” (At 23:10)

Chris Reykdal:

“….We [the state] spend $25,000 per child over the last two years of high school, about $12,500 each year. We need to give students a lot more ability to grab those resources and go find a pathway that works for them. Which means, great full-time Running Start, that works, but what about the student who wants to be a fabricator, a welder, a plumber, an electrician, they need to go find a program full-time for those last two years….but the entire high school system in the U.S. is a broken system…we have to rethink this completely…” (At 24:26, emphasis added.)

Austin Jenkins:

“Any specific budget asks of the legislature?” (At 25:38)

Chris Reykdal:

“…It’s remarkable that we are going to return money because we didn’t transport kids around, but we are desperate to have one-to-one learning supports for students who are struggling…. It isn’t that we need a ton of new money, it’s that we need flexibility with the money we do have…. . “(At 26:01, emphasis added.)

Superintendent Reykdal is right. The schools do not need more money.

He is also right that students and parents should have more control over education dollars (should “grab those resources” as he puts it).  That way families, not rigid education bureaucracies, could access the learning resources that work best for them.

Lawmakers in Idaho are more forward-looking in this regard.  A few years ago the legislature there started giving every seventh-grade student over $4,000 in public money to help plan for high school.  The response has been enthusiastic, with parents seizing the chance to make good education choices for their kids.

Idaho is not alone.  Leaders in 29 states and the District of Columbia provide over 67 education choice programs, giving families direct access to scholarships, learning vouchers, tax-free Education Savings Accounts and tax credits to pay for tuition at private schools, and to hire tutors, learning coaches and other skilled educators for their children.

These choice programs are very popular, especially with low-income and minority families who are badly underserved by the traditional system.

By the way, the $12,500 Superintendent Reykdal proposes is only state-level funding.  Local and federal money add more.  Statewide that’s an average of $15,700 per student.  In Seattle alone, taxpayers spend $20,200 per student.

Perhaps a silver lining of the COVID-19 school shut-down is that top leaders like Superintendent Reykdal are finally experiencing first-hand the poor public education choices most families face every day.  He may be opening his mind to the idea that many students can “find a pathway” that works for them, by giving families “more ability to grab those [educational] resources.”

He’s right.  If lawmakers let students and parents control more of their own public education dollars to access better learning programs after a year of locked-down schools, it will be a big step in the right direction.

WA Policy Center: WA State Supreme Court Rules Dairy Overtime Exemption Is Unconstitutional

From the Washington Policy Center, Dairy workers could face layoffs after State Supreme Court ruling on overtime pay – court petitioned for reconsideration.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled the overtime exemption for dairy workers was unconstitutional Nov. 5. Since then, it has been a scramble for dairy farmers and their employees to figure out what to do in the aftermath of a decision that could cost dairy farms up to $120 million for following what was the law at the time.

As previously discussed, the negative effects of this court decision will be felt most sharply by dairy workers themselves as their employers grapple with the potential costs of overtime pay moving forward, including layoffs and a reduction of hours.

The intervenors in the case, the Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau, have indicated they are petitioning the court for a reconsideration of their 5-4 ruling. The reconsideration puts the judgment on hold until that request is settled by the court.

However, dairy farmers are being advised to begin paying their employees overtime pay immediately.

Dairy farmers have been in an economic downturn for at least five years. This year was supposed to be a bright spot in an otherwise bleak market. However, with the onset of COVID restrictions and restaurant and school closures, milk prices have remained poor.

Now, dairy farmers must weigh one of three options: restrict all shifts to 40 hours or less, let some of their employees go, or cut the pay of their employees to offset the cost of paying time-and-a-half when their schedules eclipse 40 hours a week.

Dairy farmers have been advised by agriculture groups the fairest approach is to allow their employees to work their full schedule – approximately 55 hours a week on average – at an adjusted base rate. By maintaining the full work schedule, adjusting base hourly wages down (but not below the state minimum wage), and paying overtime at time-and-a-half, dairy employees will end up making slightly more money over the long-term.

The larger question mark for both dairy farmers, and the larger agricultural community, is the potential for retroactive compensation for dairy employees. Retroactive compensation opens dairy farmers up to be required to issue backpay to their employees for up to three years.

The key point of the retroactive compensation question is that it would punish dairy farmers for following the state’s constitution. The new figures for what retroactive compensation would look like in dollars is approximately $120 million, if assessed for three years, according to the Washington Dairy Federation. You can hear more from the Washington Dairy Federation here.

The bottom line is dairy workers and dairy farmers are put at risk by this lawsuit. Dairy farmers are being asked to make late-in-the-year budget shifts to cover the cost of overtime pay and, as a result, some dairy employees may find themselves looking for work as the holidays begin.

WA Policy Center: WA State L&I Thinks Lockdowns Will Extend to June 30, 2021

From the Washington Policy Center, Washington State Labor & Industries thinks the COVID-19 lockdowns will last until June 30, 2021

In a recent request for proposal (login required), Washington State Labor & Industries (L&I) has asked for companies to submit bids for an new L&I Education and Communication Outreach program. The plan is to educate and make sure Washington employers remain in compliance for the continuing COVID-19 business restrictions. All bids are due September 21, 2020 and L&I plans on spending $250,000 on the effort.

The end date of the contract is June 30, 2021, 10 months from now.

Apparently, L&I is planning for an extended COVID-19 lockdown and believes that it will be continuing well into 2021. For many small businesses, being locked down that long will put them out of business.

Some of the compliance program goals include:

  • Increase knowledge of, and compliance with, L&I’s COVID-19 related requirements, particularly among small businesses and nonprofits.
  • Develop new partnerships statewide among organizations serving the employer community and increase the capacity of such organizations to serve as ongoing resources for information and compliance assistance.
  • Foster increased collaboration between L&I, employer-trusted groups, and business and nonprofit communities, and with other public agencies and organizations with regard to pandemic recovery.
  • Strengthen trust between employers and L&I and increase use of L&I’s many tools, resources and services, which can help employers meet their obligations effectively and efficiently.
  • Positively impact the health and well-being of business customers, nonprofit constituents, and others who come into contact with employers and employees.

The justification for the program is that not all businesses know what L&I requires of them, including compliance assistance, during COVID-19. It is yet another example of government overreach.

Washington Policy Center believes the correct course of action is not to require a business to be the enforcement arm of any government agency. The business, may of course, at their own discretion, refuse service to those who don’t follow the rules.

The safety of Washington residents is, of course, important but both residents and businesses have been sensible in their approach to the COVID-19 crisis and can self-regulate themselves to keep our communities safe. The vast majority of business owners will continue doing everything they can do to keep their customers safe.

WPC: State law requires Governor to issue across the board budget cuts if cash deficit projected

From the Washington Policy Center, State law requires Governor to issue across the board budget cuts if cash deficit projected, addressing tax shortfalls from COVID lockdowns in Washington State.

There are two legal options to respond to a state budget deficit: 1) The Governor orders across the board budget cuts, or 2) A special session of the legislature occurs liquidating the deficit. The first is a blunt instrument allowing no thoughtful response. The second provides the people’s legislative branch of government the opportunity to deliberate a more surgical response. The Governor, however, has made it clear he doesn’t plan to call a special session to allow lawmakers to meet to balance the budget. No special session leaves the obligation for the Governor required under RCW 43.88.110(7):

“If at any time during the fiscal period the governor projects a cash deficit in a particular fund or account as defined by RCW 43.88.050, the governor shall make across-the-board reductions in allotments for that particular fund or account so as to prevent a cash deficit, unless the legislature has directed the liquidation of the cash deficit over one or more fiscal periods.”

According to RCW 43.88.270:

“Penalty for violations. Any officer or employee violating, or wilfully refusing or failing to comply with, any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Unless the Governor is now saying a cash deficit isn’t currently projected in the general fund, it is unclear why he believes this budget law doesn’t apply to him. Here is what Governor Gregoire did in 2010 when complying with this same legal requirement:

“ . . . WHEREAS, the anticipated revenues combined with the beginning cash balance of the general fund are insufficient to meet anticipated expenditures from this fund for the remainder of the current fiscal period; and . . .

WHEREAS, state law authorizes and directs the Governor to implement across-the-board reductions of allotments of appropriations to avoid a projected cash deficit . . .

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Christine O. Gregoire, Governor of the state of Washington, pursuant to chapter 43.88 RCW do hereby order: The allotment of each appropriation from the State General Fund will be reduced effective October 1, 2010, by an amount necessary to avoid a cash deficit in the State General Fund.”

The requirements of RCW 43.88.110(7) are based on the cash projection in a single account. This means when evaluating if a cash deficit is projected, you can’t assume balances in other accounts or the state’s emergency reserves. Accessing fund balances in other accounts, including the emergency reserves, requires an appropriation from the legislature.

If the Governor is not going to call a special session to allow the legislature to act, there is one simple question he needs to answer: Is a cash deficit currently projected for the general fund?

WA Policy Center: In Seattle, Failure in Leadership Produces Failure in Governance

From the Washington Policy Center, an article about recent activity in the city of Seattle – In Seattle, failure in leadership produces failure in governance


Seattle’s elected officials allow widespread law-breaking by some, while imposing full enforcement on the rest of us

We often hear that it is important to lead by example. Lately, the example set by Seattle’s elected leaders has been one of lawlessness, civic breakdown and broken governance. City leaders ordered police to evacuate a police station and abandon a six-block neighborhood to radical left-wing groups, who set up a Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), since re-labeled an Occupied Protest (CHOP). Authorities retreated after they had failed to stop widespread looting and arson in Seattle’s once-prestigious downtown core.

At the same time, Seattle leaders fully expect everyone else to behave responsibly, respect their authority, and follow the vast web of rules that regulate every aspect of life in the city. For Seattle leaders, one person robbing one store is a crime, but mass looting an entire shopping district is accepted as “protest”.

Conditions in the CHOP deteriorated quickly. In the short time the no-police zone existed, one man and a teen boy were killed and others were seriously wounded in shootings . Medics responding to 911 calls could not enter the zone, but had to respond to a staging area nearby. Violence inside CHOP became so politically sensitive that The Seattle Times shut down its online comment section on the shootings.

Of course it’s easy to accept civic violence when it is happening to someone else. The mayor of Olympia learned that dramatically when politically-motivated property damage, so attractive at a distance, arrived on her own doorstep.

Earlier she had expressed support for the protests, lamented her shortcomings, noting she “was not without sin…” and that she needed to be “more welcoming and nurturing…” Her mood changed swiftly, however, when rioters vandalized her house the evening of June 12th, damaging the front door and porch with spray-painted political slogans. She likened the attack on her home to “domestic terrorism,” adding, “It’s unfair.”

Journalist Chris Martin Palmer had a similar experience, cheerleading for burning buildings and looting in Minneapolis, until groups of rioters approached his neighborhood, at which point he angrily tweeted that protesters should “Go back to where you live.”

The ongoing disfunction in Seattle is representative of the breakdown of civility and peace in cities long governed by one-party rule. The last Republican mayor of Seattle was James Braman, elected in 1964. The last arguably centrist mayor was Wes Uhlman, who left office in 1978. Today the city council is neatly divided into two camps, those on the left and those on the far left.  The latter faction is aggressively led by avowed socialist Kshama Sawant.

Secure in the knowledge that voters have no real alternatives, the party in power naturally becomes increasingly radical as time passes. Interest groups become more strident in their demands. In Seattle’s case key interests include powerful city unions, militant environmental activists and, oddly, the local bicycle club.

The result is that while looting, arson and physical assault are forgiven, laws imposed on average families are strictly enforced. For example, failure to pay property taxes to the city in full and on time include a 3% penalty on the first payment due, and an additional 8% penalty on the second payment, followed by foreclosure and confiscation. Parking, permitting, and red-light traffic camera rules are all strictly enforced. City officials threaten business owners who don’t follow rules with closure and loss of livelihood.

Civic life is not possible without widespread goodwill and cooperation from citizens. Seattle officials rely on voluntary compliance to govern for everything from traffic rules, to re-modeling permits, to paying taxes. Yet the Mayor and city are setting an example that rewards widespread cheating. Why should the average home or business owner live “by the book” when Seattle lets others break any law they like. People may reason, “Sure I cheat on my taxes, but at least I didn’t set a police car on fire.”

If people follow the example of street activists and simply ignore rules they don’t like the city would quickly become marked by commonplace fraud and deception, which is why the mayor’s decision to allow mass lawlessness is so problematic.

Expecting people to obey the rules while accepting widespread law-breaking cannot lead to respect, peace or justice. The Mayor called it a summer of love, but what she really created is a culture of distrust and evasion in community life.

Her belated clean-up of the CHAZ zone does little to mitigate the damage done in terms of the messages already sent. Anarchists and activists know the city can be broken and will want to test it again.  Seattle’s residents and business owners know they cannot have confidence that they will get the protections they pay for and that rules only strictly apply to them.  It will take time to undo that damage.

Only fair and firm administration, civic pride and a sincere respect for order can make and keep Seattle a great place to live for everyone.