Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Washington State Legislature’s first ever virtual legislative session adjourned April 25 after 105 days. I am serving my twelfth term, and this may have been the most difficult session I have experienced. I am sure many of my colleagues would echo those concerns. I was one of a handful of legislators who was able to be in Olympia for the session, but all meetings, committee hearings and floor debates were done remotely with either the Zoom or Microsoft Teams platforms.
I know the importance of sitting down with colleagues – House and Senate, Democrat and Republican – as you work through policy matters, discuss concerns and ask questions. The eye-to-eye contact and face-to-face meetings were definitely missing. I am concerned legislation that will impact our communities and state for years to come was not fully vetted.
In this end-of-session review I cover the budgets and some of the good and bad of the session. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
- funding the Working Families Tax Credit;
- replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund;
- addressing wildfire prevention and forest health; and
- advocating for local health funding.
However, there were some major reasons I could not support this budget. It is the largest budget in state history and continues the rapid pace of state spending, as we come out of a pandemic. Many businesses and individuals have a long way to go to financially recover. This budget would grow spending by $7 billion, an increase of 13.6% over the current budget cycle. Spending has increased 74% since Gov. Inslee came into office in 2013.
I also opposed this budget because it:
- lacks transparency. The 1,102-page final operating budget was made public on the last Saturday of session. The majority party negotiated it behind closed doors with no input from our side. It was passed 24 hours later and we adjourned the legislative session shortly after.
- unnecessarily raises taxes. It includes a capital gains income tax that is likely unconstitutional and a $100 surcharge on certain recorded documents. Taxpayer revenues have been resilient and there was enough money to pass a fiscally responsible budget without raising taxes. Click here to see the majority party’s tax increases the last few sessions.
- raids the rainy-day fund. The majority party takes $1.8 billion out of the state’s voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account. They were able to circumvent the normal two-thirds vote of the Legislature needed to tap the rainy-day fund because of low employment growth during the pandemic, needing only a simple majority vote. This violates the spirit of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
The capital and transportation budgets were much more collaborative and bipartisan. The capital budget passed both chambers unanimously. Your 15th District lawmakers were able to secure more than $19 million for projects in the 15th District including:
- $4.2 million for Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District;
- $3 million for Boise Cascade Mill Site cleanup (Yakima);
- $1.65 million for Astria Toppenish Hospital;
- $1.5 million for Perry Tech (Yakima);
- $1 million for Crusher Canyon Sewer Line (Selah);
- $856,000 for the Selah-Robert Lince ELC and Kindergarten;
- $300,000 for the Granger Historical Society Museum (Granger)
- $642,000 for Yakima’s Miller Park (Yakima);
- $508,000 for Sundome reflectors (Yakima);
- $300,000 for the Selah-Moxee Irrigation District;
- $21,000 for the Toppenish Junior Livestock Facility Planning; and
- $235,000 for the Yakima Valley Fair (Grandview).
The $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget 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 funds, most of which will go toward fish passage barrier removal.
Governor’s carbon proposals
Low-carbon fuel standard and cap-and-tax
The governor was able to get pieces of his controversial climate change agenda passed this session. The low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS), House Bill 1091, requires low carbon liquid fuels like ethanol, biodiesel, or renewable diesel to be blended in with traditional gasoline. Fuel producers and others who cannot meet these requirements will be required to purchase “credits” from businesses that supply low carbon fuels or use credits that have been banked in previous compliance years.
This is a regressive concept as it will result in higher costs for gas, diesel and products, and create no new transportation revenue for our state.
The other regressive piece of the governor’s climate change agenda that passed is the cap and trade, or cap-and-tax legislation, Senate Bill 5126. It directs the Department of Ecology to implement a program to put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from certain entities and track, verify, and enforce compliance. Under the complex and volatile plan, carbon credits will be traded, creating a new manipulative market.
Voters have rejected carbon-pricing schemes in the past. In 2016, I-732 failed 59%-41% (Failing in Yakima County 67% to 53%). In 2018, I-1631 failed 57%-43% (Failing in Yakima County 70%-30%.)
On Monday, the governor signed these bills into law, but vetoed provisions in both measures that tied the legislation’s taking effect to a transportation-funding package. He infuriated lawmakers with his actions. Legal challenges are already expected.
- Lawmakers disappointed by Gov. Inslee’s veto pen (MyNorthwest)
- Tensions swirl as Inslee issues partial vetoes of “Grand Bargain” provisions (Washington State Wire)
- Inslee signs major climate bills, but not without partial vetoes; Legislative leadership threaten lawsuit (The Spokesman-Review)
- Inslee signs climate bills, but vetoes parts that tie them to passage of a transportation package (The Seattle Times)
Wildfire and forest health legislation, along with other good bills
House Bill 1168 creates a dedicated account of about $125 million every biennium to fully fund wildfire prevention and forest health. The money would be spent on management and restoration efforts to make forests more fire resilient, such as reducing fuel loads and creating firebreaks to stop swift moving fires. Funds will also be spent on upgrading existing equipment, hire and train more firefighters, and strengthen leadership and fire detection systems. Some regions have suffered through the majority of our catastrophic fires, but most every city and town in our state has experienced the harmful effects of bad air quality as a result of extreme wildfire smoke. This legislation will benefit all of Washington.
There was other good bipartisan work done this session as well.
HB 1143 allows the transfer of banked water rights with the partnership to the state’s trust program for a period of up to two years. It only applies to the Walla Walla Basin, but it could be used as a model elsewhere in the future.
HB 1410 will protect taxpayers from home foreclosure. It gives delinquent property taxpayers a chance to get caught up again by paying any amount at any time along with a 9% interest rate, instead of 12%.
HB 1170 will help Washington state build economic strength through manufacturing. The legislation provides a framework to add 300,000 new manufacturing jobs over the next 10 years.
HB 1137 elevates road maintenance and preservation in transportation planning.
HB 1001 establishes a law enforcement professional development outreach grant program. The new law works toward transitioning law enforcement into more community-oriented policing, rather than the current reactionary model.
Reasons for concern
There are other pieces of legislation on top of the governor’s climate change legislation that could negatively impact our communities and state for years to come.
- Capital gains income tax – As I mentioned earlier, the majority passed a new income tax on capital gains, ignoring the voters who have said no 10 times to an income tax. I am concerned this will be extended to the middle class if it survives the court challenges.
- Legislation to address Blake decision leads to weaker drug laws – Possession of heroin, meth and other hard drugs was made a simple misdemeanor, and arrests cannot be made until the third incident.
- Law enforcement – There are new laws that restrict tactics and equipment. I have heard from law enforcement and constituents that removing these tools would increase the danger of their job. It also decreases public safety and puts our communities at risk of more criminal activity.
While the legislative session is over, please remember I represent you year-round. I am available to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and assist you with state government issues.
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 and privilege to represent the 15th District!