Issues to watch in 2024 - Salish Current

Issues from water rights to child care support face Whatcom County and Bellingham at the start of the new year; Bellingham’s new mayor, Kim Lund, speaks in a Bellingham City Club candidate forum last September. (Amy Nelson / Salish Current photo ©)

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

In addition to the sturm und drang on the national level in the coming year, we have (at least) these matters to attend to on state and local levels.

Six initiatives

Initially, six initiatives to the legislature have been filed and the backers assert that they have collected sufficient valid signatures to force the legislature to choose one action among these: pass each, in which case they become law; place them on the November ballot for the voters where a majority vote of the voters can enact an initiative into law; or adopt an alternative proposal and submit both to the voters. Each initiative is voted on by itself. Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) is the primary sponsor of all six initiatives, per the Secretary of State. 

All six aim to reverse recent laws that were opposed by rich Washingtonians, “law-and-order” advocates and conservative folks: 

  • I-2109 Repeal the State Capital Gains Tax — self-explanatory,
  • I-2111 No Taxes on Personal Income — ditto (note that the State Supreme Court ruled about 90 years ago that a graduated personal income tax was not permitted by the Washington Constitution),
  • I-2113 Restore Police Pursuit — also self-explanatory, 
  • I-2117 Repeal the Cap-and-Trade Tax (also known as Climate Commitment Act), 
  • I-2124 Long-Term Care Opt Out — would allow not participating in the Washington Cares Act which requires contributions to a fund that workers later may tap for help with health care costs, and
  • I-2081 Washington Parents Bill of Rights — would mandate that public schools allow parents to review student records, including otherwise confidential health records, review curricula and opt their children out of sex education. 

Kirkland resident Brian Heywood contributed well over $6,000,000 to gather signatures using three political committees: Let’s Go Washington (sponsored by Brian Heywood), Taxpayers Accountability Alliance (sponsored by Brian Heywood) and Safer Streets for All (sponsored by Brian Heywood). Contributions and expenditures are reported by the committees to the Public Disclosure Commission. Mr. Heywood moved from California to escape the progressive leanings of the Golden State a few years ago.

Taken as a whole, these initiatives are a direct challenge to the legislature’s actions that are intended to make rich folks pay more taxes, make police activities safer, collect more gas tax to be used to combat global warming, allow the auction of air pollution permits where the proceeds go to reducing carbon emissions, and help future retirees with paying for long-term care and medical expenses. I-2081 injects the goals of the “parental rights” movement into the public schools.

Nooksack adjudication

Secondly, the Nooksack water adjudication is ramping up. This judicial proceeding will determine who has rights to take and use water from the Nooksack River and its associated groundwater. Federal, tribal, municipal and private water rights are subject to the adjudication. It is the second major water adjudication in state history. The Yakima River adjudication took about 20 years, but newer technology will probably shave several years off that. Whatcom County will probably get a fifth Superior Court judge so that half of a judge’s time for the next few years can be devoted to the adjudication, and Sens. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes) and Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) have pre-filed a bill for the 2024 session which would allow the county to hire a special master to assist the adjudication judge. The county clerk’s office will need to upgrade its IT system. The county will also have to locate office space for the personnel involved: the jail can’t yet be remodeled for this purpose and the courthouse is already jammed. 

Adjudication is necessary because stakeholders have spent well over a decade in unsuccessful attempts to negotiate ways to share this now scarce resource. 

Child care

Thirdly, the money from the child care initiative that Whatcom voters narrowly passed in 2022 is piling up in county accounts. An interim report from the group implementing it tells us that the county health department, which is charged with the implementation, is staffing up and should begin making grants later this year. Given the hope that drove passage and the 20-vote victory, eyes should be on improving child care in the county with real results apparent later in the year. A major selling point of this tax was that it would provide child care for the over 5,000 kids who need it.

New Bellingham mayor

Fourthly, new Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund was elected to do a better job than Seth Fleetwood, without a lot of clarity as to what a “better job” meant. She faces many of the same problems: a homeless population without clear paths to housing, the fentanyl crisis, the perception of a dangerous downtown from which business is fleeing while we are in the midst of a crime wave, etc. How will she meet these?

New Whatcom sheriff

Finally, there’s a new sheriff in town. How will Donnell “Tank” Tanksley change the sheriff’s office and better serve us?

— Contributed by Dan Raas

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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