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The Growth Management Act: Just another Central Planning Failure

by Glen Morgan
Freedom Foundation

Posted 1/25/2014


Last Thursday, thanks largely to Senator Pam Roach (R-Auburn), the Washington State Senate provided an opportunity to discuss the Growth Management Act (GMA) in a public work session. Last year,I wrote about a less formal work session held by Representative Dean Takko (D-Longview). However, the recent Senate work session demonstrated notable willingness to look at Washington State’s GMA in a comprehensive manner without constraining the comments of those who testified. The complete video from the hearing is here (starting at about 37 minutes).

Experts from Futurewise (pro-Central Planning), CATO, Freedom Foundation, National Federation of 
Independent Businesses
 (NFIB), Citizens Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR), and others offered a variety of testimony. In addition, two current County Commissioners and one former legislator testified, and the citizens who spoke came from all over Washington, including counties like Pend OrielleWhatcomSan JuanThurstonIsland, Pierce, and King.

The hearing room was packed– standing room only. The overflow rooms were also full of citizens watching the work session, and many people were hovering outside the doors, hoping to fill any vacated seat. The testimony at this hearing speaks for itself, and this open public GMA work session was the first in possibly the last 20 years. This fact, along with the high degree of public interest and the significant use of local and state resources to comply with the GMA, makes this televised work session remarkable.

Under previous Washington State Senate regimes, led largely by the Democrat Party, a public discussion was never allowed partly because few GMA supporters want to question the impact of its mandated central-planning schemes—let alone the dangers of central planning in general. As I state in my comments at this hearing (see 1:51:37), the Freedom Foundation’s official policy is that the GMA should be repealed. As Property Rights Director, I recognize the great harm this law has directly caused for citizens and their communities alike. Many of the people testifying also understood the problems and described them. For instance, Randy O’Toole discussed the fallacy of Compact Developments and their “benefits” to the environment. He has also written several papers on this subject attached here.

Commissioner Skoog from Pend Orielle County and Commissioner Emerson from Island County discussed the real and costly impacts of trying to manage small counties under GMA-imposed restrictions and litigation. Additionally, Ed Kilduff, a scientist from San Juan County and Roger Almskaar from Whatcom County discussed problems introduced by faux science and goofy assumptions under the GMA. Charlie Conner from King County explained how the GMA forced developers to get big and go for mega developments, only hurting the little guy in the process. Larry Castello, also from King County, discussed how the GMA encouraged land use policies in King County that ignore property rights (listed as a right in the Washington State Constitution) and emphasize penalties, fees, fines, restrictions, and restraint against citizens.

Senator Roach also pointed out that the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) does not represent the rural or small counties very well at the Legislature. If I were a lobbyist at WSAC, I would take a close look at how they represent their smaller counties.

If you’re a citizen concerned about property rights, you should listen to all of these testimonies. (You may enjoy Senator Roach’s description of a memorable helicopter ride over the Yakima Reservation, too.)

In the recent 2014 Index of Economic Freedom rankings published by the Heritage Foundation, the United States is slipping further down the list of “mostly free” nations. Exploding debt and the erosion of property rights have accelerated this downward rankings trend for the United States. In Washington State, the GMA has been the primary vehicle for destroying individual property rights. Washington State modeled its GMA on Florida’s “Smart Growth,” a central-planning approach with an Orwellian name. Florida discovered the central planning business was not a good use of their resources, so they rejected this scheme in 2011. We hope Washington State doesn’t have to continue down this harmful path much longer before we can convince our elected leaders to reject it, as well. Thursday’s hearing is just the beginning and will hopefully initiate the dialogue that can move Washington toward more freedom in the future.

In politics, there are no guarantees, and there is no such thing as Utopia. Politics is all about the art of the possible, and it is unlikely the GMA would be repealed tomorrow. Yet Thursday’s hearing was a great opportunity to start exposing the truth about central planning in Washington State and forcing our elected officials to pay attention to this issue. For this opportunity, we should thank Senator Roach and her fellow state senators for being willing to initiate the discussion.

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