Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There are less than two weeks left in the 2021 legislative session. Last week, lawmakers spent long hours debating and voting on Senate bills. We also recently passed the House proposals of the state's three budgets – operating, transportation and capital. Below is a brief overview of the budgets passed by the House, as well as details on a possible massive transportation package that may come before us.
On April 3, House Democrats passed their proposed operating budget on a party-line vote of 57-41. The proposal came without any input from House Republicans. In fact, we did not see the 967-page spending plan until a few hours before it was shared with the public and put before the House Appropriations Committee for a public hearing.
There were some good things in the budget that reflected the Republican budget proposal we put forward in February, including:
- funding the Working Families Tax Credit;
- addressing wildfire prevention and forest health; and
- advocating for local health funding and funding with existing revenue (not the health insurance premium tax proposed by the governor.)
Unfortunately, the proposal passed by the House is unsustainable. It continues a rapid pace of state spending – which has increased 72% since 2013. This budget would grow spending by $6.6 billion, an increase of almost 13% over our current budget cycle and spend $7 billion in one-time federal stimulus funds.
The capital gains income tax is also unnecessarily included in their budget proposal. Republicans offered an amendment to remove the tax, while still fully funding the underlying budget. The amendment failed by a vote of 41-52. This is disappointing since there is clearly enough revenue to pass a budget that addresses the state's needs without raising taxes or cutting vital services. Our state revenues continue to be strong.
Finally, the majority's budget takes $1.8 billion out of the state's voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account. They are using an unusual budget maneuver to do this. Normally, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to tap the fund. However, because unemployment growth is down, it only takes a simple majority this session. They put the money in a separate account, not spending it, so they can access it later. This seems to violate the spirit, and possibly the law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
For these reasons I could not support the operating budget proposal.
I voted in favor of the $10.9 billion biennial transportation budget, which passed with strong bipartisan support. It protects current projects while meeting the maintenance and preservation needs of our transportation system. The spending plan also allows us to use federal relief funds to invest in much-needed fish passage barrier removal.
I sponsored an amendment to the budget, which was adopted by a vote of 88-1, that directs the Washington State Transportation Commission to evaluate agencies, programs and activities funded in the transportation budget that might be more equitably paid for using general fund revenue or other funding sources.
This fits into the commission's duties. They review and assess how the entire transportation system is working across the state, including local and regional transportation needs. This provides us an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation about creating a resilient and sustainable transportation budget for the future.
Transportation package, low carbon fuel standard and cap and trade
The details of a possible transportation plan are changing frequently. It is difficult to know if or what we may vote on. The latest proposal, the Senate Democrat's transportation plan, Forward Washington, raises 33 taxes and fees to pay for their proposal. It includes a 9.8 cent fuel tax increase, a statewide special transportation benefit assessment on new construction, food delivery fees, and much more. There is also a “per mile funding system” that gets started for electric and hybrid vehicles. The fee will be 2 cents per mile starting June 1, 2026 and increase to 2.5 cents per mile July 1, 2029. This may be the foot in the door to a Road Usage Charge or pay-per-mile plan. The bills related to the Senate plan include:
- SB 5481 – Transportation funding bonds – $5.5 billion;
- SB 5482 – Bill appropriating the funding; and
- SB 5483 – How the revenue will be generated.
It is important to note that the transportation package is linked with the two climate-change bills wanted by Gov. Jay Inslee. The low carbon fuel standard, House Bill 1091, and the cap and trade program, Senate Bill 5126. Voters have rejected carbon-pricing schemes in the past (I-732 failed 59%-41% in 2016; I-1631 failed 57%-43% in 2018), but the governor and the majority party are still trying to get this through the Legislature.
There are estimates that if all three proposals pass (gas tax increase, low carbon fuel standard, and cap and trade) gas prices could increase up to 64 cents a gallon by 2028 or almost double what we currently pay in state and federal gas taxes in Washington state.
As mentioned, the details are being negotiated daily and it is difficult to predict what a final plan would look like, and if we are asked to vote on all three. Click here for an article on all the moving pieces.
The House unanimously passed its proposed capital budget, House Bill 1080. An important aspect of the legislative session is advocating for local projects that would benefit our communities and region. It's taxpayer dollars returning to district.
The capital budget contains those infrastructure type projects for our K-12 schools, colleges, local governments and community projects where funding may be difficult to come by. It also focuses on stewardship projects protecting our farmlands, waterways and environment.
The House proposal includes more than $45 million in funding for the 12th District, including:
- Seven Acres Foundation: $2.5 million;
- Rocky Reach Dam Turbine Hub: $1.03 million;
- Soap Lake Elementary Conversion to Early Learning Facility: $856,000;
- Coulee City Medical Clinic: $846,000;
- Leavenworth Ski Hill: $52,000;
- Manson Bay Old Swim Hole: $630,000;
- Okanogan County Agricultural Water Bank: $361,000;
- Nason Ridge Community Forest Acquisition: $3 million; and
- Wenatchee Center for Technical Education and Innovation: $3.2 million.
The Senate offered its own proposal. The two chambers are working out the differences between the proposals as we try to finish our work before April 25.
We have not given up on addressing emergency powers reform this session. State lawmakers and the constituents they represent need to be part of the decision-making process. This is not a partisan issue.
Friday we will be making a motion to bring House Bill 1557 to the floor for consideration. The measure has bipartisan co-sponsors. It does not take away the governor's powers, but simply gives lawmakers a voice in the decision-making process during emergencies.
- Editorial: Legislature should act to balance government (The Columbian)
- Editorial: Gov. Inslee's emergency powers over COVID have gone unchecked long enough (Tri-City Herald)
- Editorial: Curbing Inslee's emergency power all but dead. We should learn from Texas, New York (The News Tribune)
Virtual town hall – thank you
I want to thank everyone who participated in our Zoom virtual town hall event last month. We had around 100 participants and a wide variety of questions. I am hopeful we will be able to hold an in-person town hall meeting in the future.
As we come down the homestretch of the session, there are still a lot of important issues in play, so please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns, or comments. I appreciate your input.
It is an honor to represent the 12th District!