Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In two weeks, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be accepting bids for tree harvest to thin 70 acres of state trust lands 21 miles northeast of Sedro-Woolley. It's part of the “sustainable harvest program” in which the state auctions and sells timber from portions of its 2.1 million acres of forested trust lands (131,206 acres of which are in Skagit County), but no more trees are taken than what those lands could grow.
Not only has the program provided jobs in the timber, logging, construction, and housing industries for local families, it's an important source of Washington's school construction funding. Years ago, lawmakers created the “common school construction fund” with funding “derived from the sale or appropriation of timber and other crops from school and state land…” (RCW 28A.515.320) The law lists other sources of revenue for this fund, but a primary source for schools is timber sales on state lands.
Normally, few people outside the timber industry would pay attention to these tree auctions. This year is different. As new housing demands have evaporated in this recession, so has the demand for lumber. Timber prices are down by as much as 60 percent. Many loggers are out of work. Mills have curtailed operations.
Rock-bottom prices are also having a trickle-down effect on school kids. How?
As a DNR official told me, from 14 harvestable lands put up for auction in March, bids were received for only six harvests. Fewer people are bidding and available harvests remain unsold. Those purchased are at the lowest prices. That means less money for the common school construction fund.
“It's a big hit against this fund,” said the official. “Revenues have gone down by about 50 percent over the last 18 months. It has a direct correlation to school construction funds, as well as revenues that counties receive from these harvest sales that they use for hospitals, roads, and fire districts.”
Less money could mean local taxpayers may be faced with picking up more of the tab for school construction. I know this area is supportive of its schools. Families struggling in this economy, however, worry about digging deeper into their empty pockets.
Although some suggest we abandon timber sales as a reliable funding source, I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we need to make smarter decisions that will get us through these hard times, such as reducing mandates that hike school construction costs.
Four years ago, the Legislature established “green” building standards for new schools. The new standards have increased school construction costs by about 5 percent — or about $25 million this year. Although supporters said the standards would save money by making schools more energy efficient, a KING 5 investigation found the opposite. In fact, one “green” middle school in Tacoma is using 30 percent more energy than a similar one without the standards. Suspending these rules could save millions — a smarter decision as less timber revenue is available for school construction.
Another way is to exempt school construction from the state's sales and use tax, which would further decrease costs.
These are my suggestions, but I'd like to hear from you. I invite you to visit my Web site (houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen) and e-mail me your ideas on this topic or any other state government issue.
In your service,