Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned its first-ever “virtual” legislative session on Sunday. It was a difficult session not being able to meet in person with constituents or our colleagues, or hold actual public hearings and debate and vote on the House floor.
We made it work, but the eye-to-eye contact, the sit down conversations and being able to go discuss concerns, questions and policy matters with each other were certainly missing. I look forward to when we will be able to return to that.
There are a number of issues to update you on this session – the three budgets and major policy issues that will impact our communities and Washington state for years to come. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
Operating budget spends record amount of money
The majority party made their $58.9 billion operating budget available to legislative Republicans, the public and media on Saturday, then voted on the 1,102-page budget Sunday sending it to the governor for his signature. We had less than 24 hours to review the document and had no opportunity to amend it. The lack of transparency in the budget process was disappointing. There were some good things in the budget I was very supportive of including:
- Working Families Tax Credit;
- long-term forest health management;
- the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund; and
- public health funding.
However, I am very concerned about its sustainability as it increases spending by $7 billion or more than 13% over the previous biennium. We have been fortunate our taxpayer revenues have been resilient through the pandemic, but to increase spending at that level with so much economic uncertainty is irresponsible. We do not know what the next year may hold economically. Spending has increased 74% since 2013. I don't see how we can sustain that.
In spite of the fact many are still suffering the financial impacts of the last year, there was enough taxpayer revenue this session to fund priority issues without cutting vital services. There was also no need to drain the rainy day fund or include a capital gains income tax, which is already being challenged in the courts. While proponents for the income tax will argue it is only taxing the wealthy, keep in mind many of those people are job creators and investors in our economy and communities.
It should be noted, in December, the governor included a capital gains income tax on individuals who make $25,000 or couples who make $50,000 in his proposed operating budget. You can understand our concern on why this may lead to a full-blown income tax in the near future.
The budget essentially passed on a party-line vote in the House and Senate, with two Democrats also voting “no” in the Senate. With a more collaborative, transparent approach the budget could have had bipartisan support with more voices providing input on how to help our working families and communities as we continue to be under emergency orders during this pandemic.
I supported the $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget. It protects current projects and provides some funding for the maintenance and preservation needs of our transportation systems. It includes an influx of more than $1 billion in federal pandemic funds, most of which will go toward fish passage barrier removal and backfilling holes left by toll and fare reductions.
The transportation spending plan included an amendment I sponsored to look at funding options to make our transportation budget more equitable and sustainable. My amendment directs the Washington State Transportation Commission to evaluate transportation funding options and recommend new funding sources that do not rely on vehicle owners or drivers. The commission's report is due in the fall of 2022.
The pandemic shutdowns have played a major role in the decrease of our transportation funding, and with more fuel efficient cars, and electric vehicles our revenues are not keeping up with our needs. I am hopeful the commission will identify funding sources that will allow us to direct more of the fuel tax dollars to the maintenance and preservation of our current road infrastructure.
The capital budget was a bipartisan, collaborative process and a great example of how both sides can work together. It passed unanimously in both chambers.
The capital spending 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 and brings taxpayer dollars back to our district.
The total capital spending plan is $6.3 billion, $3.9 billion of which is from the sale of general obligation bonds. It also leaves $82 million in bond capacity for the 2022 supplemental capital budget. The 12th District lawmakers secured 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;
- Wenatchee Center for Technical Education and Innovation, $3.2 million;
- North Central Regional Library, $798,000;
- Coulee City Medical Clinic, $846,000;
- City of Wenatchee Community Center, $2.5 million;
- Twisp Civic Center, $1.5 million;
- Leavenworth Ski Hill, $52,000;
- Chelan Municipal Airport extension, $5.7 million;
- Dryden wastewater improvement project, $1.03 million;
- Malaga Industrial Park waterline extension, $1.54 million;
- New well for Peshastin, $1.1 million;
- Bridgeport's Reservoir No. 2 water supply and distribution, $3.2 million;
- Manson Bay Old Swim Hole, $630,000;
- Methow River Basin water banking, $2 million;
- Rock Island redevelopment, $750,000; and
- funding for small school district modernization in Manson, Methow Valley, Pateros, Waterville, Bridgeport, Grand Coulee, Mansfield and Soap Lake.
Capital gains income tax
Following a six-hour House floor debate that spanned two days, Democrats passed a state income tax on capital gains. Senate Bill 5096 passed the last week of session on a 52-46 vote in the House and by a 25-24 vote in the Senate. This tax is:
- unnecessary as state revenue will grow by $4.3 billion in 2021-23.
- unreliable as the capital gains tax is very volatile, especially during a pandemic or economic downturn.
- unpopular as voters have turned down an income tax or related ballot measure 10 times.
- unconstitutional and will be challenged in the courts.
Low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) mandate
On the final day of session, the majority passed their LCFS mandate, House Bill 1091. The legislation authorizes the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program by rule to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. This mandate will increase the cost of gas and diesel without generating any new revenue for transportation projects, and do very little to improve air quality.
Another controversial bill, Senate Bill 5126, and a center piece to the governor's climate change agenda, also passed in the eleventh hour. The legislation would establish a cap-and-invest program, some refer to it as cap-and-tax, for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology.
The measure passed in the House by a 54-43 vote. Every House Republican and a few Democrats voted against it. This new, bureaucratic scheme is regressive. It will increase the costs of gas, food, goods, and heating on low- and middle-income families. It will be punitive to people who have to use gas and commute to work.
The added costs associated with cap-and-tax, a low-carbon fuel standard, and a potential state gas tax increase — including current increasing prices at the pump — could devastate many individuals, families, and small businesses.
We hear a lot about the regressive nature of our tax system. However, these policies being pushed are regressive and will hurt those who are struggling financially in our current economic situation.
Police reform legislation
There were a number of bills introduced this session related to police reform. We do need to improve the public's trust in law enforcement and strengthen accountability with officers, but it should not come at the expense of putting the public safety of our communities at risk.
House Bill 1310 would establish a use of force standard for law enforcement officers, failing to recognize a number of circumstances where force may be required to ensure public safety. It also undercuts the reasonable officer standard approved and established by voters through I-940.
House Bill 1054 relates to limiting certain police tactics and equipment, which I opposed. In communicating with our local law enforcement officials, there is concern we are taking away some of the tools officers rely on to de-escalate situations and avoid the need to use deadly force, making their jobs even more dangerous. That decreases public safety and puts our communities at risk of more criminal activity – the exact opposite of what this legislation is trying to accomplish.
Senate Bill 5066 would require a peace officer to intervene when the officer witnesses a fellow peace officer engaging in the use of excessive force. There should be a duty to report and intervene, but the expectations need to be clear and reasonable. I strongly support the intent of this bill, but I am concerned the legislation is somewhat vague. House Republicans offered amendments to improve the legislation, but none of them were accepted.
House Bill 1267 would establish the Office of Independent Investigations within the Office of the Governor for the purpose of investigating deadly force incidents involving peace officers. There is concern this bill does not insulate the new entity from political influence, the new office will be able to choose which investigations it wants to take on, and finally, civilians should not be able to take on complex investigations that could jeopardize the viability of any prosecution.
Some of the issues trying to be addressed stem from urban areas and large law enforcement agencies. Our rural law enforcement officers face different challenges than those working in the city. Deputies often respond to initial calls alone, and if we cannot provide them the tools they need to be safe, it will drive our good, high quality officers out of this line of work. There needs to be proper balance. We should not severely hamper our law enforcement officers' ability to respond to emergency situations.
Keep in touch
While the legislative session is over, please remember I am your state representative year-round. I am available to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government.
You can follow state government news throughout the interim with the following websites/news services.
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process. It is updated frequently.
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.
It is an honor to serve the 12th District in the state House of Representatives.