They asked us for help. We answered the call and put our own resources into the fight and our reputations on the line. They took our help, passed their bill, and then stabbed us in the back.

I hope they don’t expect a thank you.

In late March, WSAC was invited to a meeting with several other organizations including ports, cities and environmental groups to discuss a proposal for reforming the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) program. In recent years, funding for MTCA has been diverted for other uses. With the proposed new regulations, we believed we could better assure that the money was being put to work for what it was originally intended – managing solid waste programs and cleaning up toxic sites.

We were also briefed on strategies to improve and increase the Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) – the revenue source for MTCA. A new tax strategy would provide enhanced funding for operations and capital projects, we were told. (For more details on the entire proposal, you can read my “Toxic Tax Transformation” blog post from April 7th.)

We, along with others who attended the meeting, were specifically asked to assist in moving the bill forward. It was already quite late in the session and if a complex and controversial proposal such as this would have any hope, it would take tremendous effort to get passed.

It was agreed among the stakeholders that the proposal held value. A loose coalition quickly formed. We met regularly, developed messaging, and strategized ways to build support for the bill.

At the same time, the Senate released it’s Operating and Capital Budget proposals, assuming the passage of the MTCA Reform proposal and the revenue it would provide. This bill, which hadn’t even been voted out of committee, was already incorporated into a budget proposal resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars.

As the bill began to move through the process of hearings and testimony, opposition emerged. If passed, it would result in a significant tax increase. It changed the way MTCA would be used by the state. It’s not surprising that it would be opposed. We began to discuss ways to overcome the objections and develop compromises.

The tax rate proposal changed – several times. The use of the funds began to change. The ways the funds were distributed for different types of operations costs and projects costs began to change too.

Throughout the process, we were assured our interests were protected. We advocated for county solid waste management needs and our primary concern for restoring funding for local programs. We continued to be told that we were fully funded.

We took the bill (SB 5993) to our legislative steering committee. They supported it, even though it was a substantial increase in taxes.

WSAC organized multiple lobbying efforts to support the bill. We produced a full-color flyer. We took heavy criticism from other Senators and Representatives because of our support.

Some of our members, including solid waste managers, environmental health directors, and County Commissioners, made a special trip to Olympia to advocate for this bill.

We even offered testimony Saturday morning, in the House Finance Committee, in support of the bill.

Later Saturday, the state operations budget proposal was finally released.

And after all the work, support, and effort by WSAC and others to support the MTCA Reform legislation, the resulting increase for local solid waste programs is $0.00.

Yes, there is funding for local solid waste financial assistance grants. It is the exact same amount that was provided in the last biennial budget. The funding we received in the last budget was a 62% decrease compared to funding received by counties for solid waste programs only a few years ago.

SB 5993 will generate over $100 million in new funding. Funding that is supposed to be used for solid waste programs and toxic cleanups.

We worked hard to help pass it. But in the end, we were cast aside.

The last few years have been tough for county solid waste management programs. Many programs have implemented large tipping fee increases and significant cutbacks in order to maintain basic services. This is especially true outside the greater Puget Sound region.

Moderate risk waste and hazardous risk waste programs don’t even exist in all counties.  Many that did exist have been reduced or eliminated from lack of funding.

We need to restore critical funding for local programs. Our solid waste management needs are expanding rapidly with a swelling population. Important public health and safety programs aren’t keeping up with population growth. We were told SB 5993 was the answer.

Instead, we have no restored funding.

Our programs are declining, and that trend will continue. Recycling is being reduced or eliminated. Hazardous waste is not being collected or managed properly in our communities.

Local solid waste management programs are going backward environmentally when the messaging of our state’s leaders is exactly the opposite.

Their sound bite: “We’re really delivering on the environment”. But the state is regressing in its support for some of the most basic environmental needs – managing solid waste.

State leaders know this is true.  They know it because we’ve told them over and over.

I wouldn’t check the mail, or email, for that thank you anytime soon.

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Paul Jewell

Paul joined WSAC in July 2018. He began his career in county government in 2008 as an elected official and served ten years as a County Commissioner for Kittitas County. He is a graduate of Central Washington University. Paul’s previous career was exclusively based in the private sector, including as a small business owner. He is a native of Thurston County but currently resides in Ellensburg with his family.
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