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Wildfire Fund Concept Gets Bipartisan Support, Questions In Washington House

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Two northeast Washington legislators say they support the concept of creating a fund to pay for wildfire prevention and forest restoration on state lands. It’s an idea proposed by Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.

Franz proposes to add a surcharge on property and casualty insurance premiums — about a dollar a month, she estimates — and direct the money to a wildfire prevention and forest restoration fund.

The fund would allow the state to hire full-time wildland firefighters, buy new fire engines and a helicopter. And it would help the state plan and carry out forest thinning projects.  

Good plan, says Rep. Joel Kretz, but he questions the need for a new tax.

“We’re going to be looking at that. I actually think it should rise to the level of priority to come out of the general fund. But whether there’s the political support for that or not on both sides of the aisle, I don’t know,” Kretz said.

Sen. Shelly Short agrees that current revenues should be used for the new fund. She says the state can afford it right now. And besides, she says, specialized taxes are often re-routed.

“A lot of the time revenue from sources that are to be used for other things end up getting swept, or taken, from that revenue source to pay for other things,” Short said.

Short and Kretz believe there’s a good chance the legislature may act on Franz’s proposal this year, though maybe not in its current form.