Washington State Sens. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, and Nick Harper, D-Everett, are tasked with targeting potential state government reforms in the hopes of garnering long-term financial savings.
On Jan. 13 Senate Democrats previewed reform legislation to streamline government, target fraud and abuse, and make strategic investments.
Hargrove and Harper joined Majority Leader Lisa Brown for her media availability where the three outlined the caucus agenda for sensible reforms and strategic investments for long-term savings.
“Reforms are policy changes and structural improvements that better deliver state services to the public at a lower cost,” Hargrove said. “Finding new revenue, whether by closing loopholes or raising taxes, is budgeting. Cutting costs by eliminating programs or increasing cost-sharing with employees is budgeting.
We’re talking about creating fundamental change so that the state can better serve the public.”
Hargrove said the state cannot continue to operate in the same way and expect different results.
Hargrove and Harper examined Joint Legislative Audit and Review audits of government services and recommendations from the state auditor and took into consideration legislative suggestions from both parties.
“We have the opportunity to implement many of these thoroughly vetted, cost-saving approaches to state government now to place the state back on sound financial footing in the near future,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove proposed a measure earlier this month to amend a state program that maintains working forests and rich farmland to become more flexible.
Hargrove, a member of the Senate Natural Resources & Marine Waters Committee and a private forester, proposed adding a section to the state’s Conservation Futures Program to enable county governments to create localized special conservation districts to ensure that land used by area loggers, farmers and outdoors men is kept in top condition. Hargrove and Matthew Randazzo, development director of the North Olympic Land Trust, worked together on the proposed addition, called Flexible Conservation Futures.
“The current form is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition,” said Hargrove. “The new bill will allow the property owners who will actually benefit the most from this program to be the ones who help provide for it.”
Under the current Conservation Futures Program, county governments may levy a 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation property tax on all property owners in the county to create a Conservation Futures Fund. Money from that fund is then used to purchase easements or property that will assist in the upkeep of valuable farmland, working forests, wildlife habitat and open space land, according to a news release from Hargrove’s office.
The addition of the Flexible Conservation Futures would allow county governments to create special “priority” conservation districts within a county where local properties would pay the conservation futures levy and receive the benefits of the program. This will allow the communities in the counties which need and support conservation efforts to receive targeted funding without affecting the rest of the county tax base.
“This program is about purchasing easements to keep Natural Resource lands producing, not regulating people,” said Hargrove. “Through this program, lands that provide an income for parts of a county and a livelihood for working men and women will be maintained without impacting all the property owners in the county.”