Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It is budget time in “virtual” Olympia. We have less than a week left in the legislative session. Both the House and Senate have passed their versions of our three state budgets – operating, transportation and capital. In this update I will share with you our latest efforts to address emergency powers, an overview of the House versions of the three budgets, and information related to the transportation package being discussed.
Majority votes down opportunity to address emergency powers
Friday, House Republicans brought a motion to the House floor to place House Concurrent Resolution 4402 on the Second Reading Calendar. It was an effort to waive previously established cutoff dates and allowed us to bring House Bill 1557 to the floor for a full vote.
This bill had bipartisan co-sponsors and was designed to ensure adequate legislative involvement in long-lasting states of emergency. Under the bill states of emergency would expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature. It would also allow the Legislature to terminate, on its own authority, an emergency declaration. Many states are already doing this or have amended their emergency powers laws during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the vote failed on party lines 41-56. This is disappointing. State lawmakers and the constituents they represent need to have a voice and be part of the decision-making process.
House operating budget
On April 3, the majority party passed their proposed operating budget on a party-line vote 57-41. There were some good things in the budget that reflected the Republican budget proposal we put forward earlier in the legislative session including funding the Working Families Tax Credit, addressing wildfire prevention and forest health, and advocating for local health funding and funding with existing revenue.
Unfortunately, there are reasons to be very concerned with this budget.
It continues the rapid pace of unsustainable spending. Our state spending has increased 72% since 2013. This budget would increase spending by $6.6 billion, or 12.8% over the current budget cycle.
The capital gains income tax is also included in this budget. It is unnecessary, likely unconstitutional, and unwanted – voters have rejected an income tax 10 times. Republicans offered an amendment to remove the tax, while still fully funding the underlying budget. However, the amendment failed by a vote of 41-52. Our budget included similar funding priorities but did not raise taxes or cut vital services.
Finally, the majority's budget takes $1.8 billion out of the state's voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account. Normally, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to tap the fund. However, because unemployment growth is down during the pandemic, there is a provision that allows them to access it with just a simple majority vote. They do not spend the money. They move it to a separate account so they can access it later. This violates the spirit, and possibly the law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
I could not support the operating budget proposal by the majority party for these reasons.
The House passed a $10.9 billion biennial transportation budget. I did not support the budget. I am concerned about deteriorating transportation infrastructure while we are spending our scarce money on things such as electrification of our state ferry system. That is something that can be done through market forces not government subsidies. I would add drivers are the primary source of funding of the transportation budget but they are supporting many other modes of transportation in this spending plan. I would prefer to see a more equitable and sustainable transportation funding plan.
With the end of session rapidly approaching, it is unclear if or when we may vote on a transportation package – and what that may look like.
The recent Senate Democrats transportation plan, Forward Washington, raises 33 taxes and fees to pay for their proposal. It includes a 9.8 cent fuel tax increase, a cap and invest package, 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 legislation related to this proposal is below:
- SB 5481 – Transportation funding bonds – $5.5 billion;
- SB 5482 – Bill appropriating the funding; and
- SB 5483 – How the revenue will be generated.
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 Democrat's cap and trade program, Senate Bill 5126.
You may recall voters have rejected carbon-pricing schemes in the past (I-732 failed 59%-41% in 2016; I-1631 failed 57%-43% in 2018). Despite the results at the ballot box, the governor and majority party are pushing hard to get this through the Legislature this session. Negotiations are going on daily with details changing frequently. This article provides an overview of all the moving pieces.
Finally, it should be pointed out, there are estimates that if all three proposals pass gas prices could increase up to 64 cents a gallon by 2028. That is on top of the 67 cents a gallon in fuel taxes we already pay. It is difficult to predict what may happen.
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 $19 million for the 15th District including dollars for:
- Astria Toppenish Hospital 14-Bed Civil Unit;
- Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District;
- Selah-Robert Lince Early Learning Center and Kindergarten-Phase 2;
- Miller Park in Yakima;
- Yakima Valley Fair;
- Crusher Canyon sewer line in Selah;
- Tribal Compact Yakama school modernization; and
- Remediation and clean-up grant request for Yakima City landfill.
The Senate offered its own capital spending proposal. The two chambers are working out the differences between the plans as we try to finish our work before April 25.
Capital gains income tax, still alive
As I mentioned, the majority party's operating budget proposal assumes revenue from a capital gains income tax, Senate Bill 5096. This bill was passed out of the House Finance Committee on Friday. My colleagues and I will be fighting against this bill when it comes to the floor. It is an unnecessary, unwanted, and likely unconstitutional tax. Our state revenues are strong, voters have rejected an income tax 10 times, and the IRS has stated this is an “income” tax – making it unconstitutional.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments you may have as we work through the final days of the legislative session. Many major pieces of legislation are still being finalized. Your input is important to me.
It is an honor and privilege to represent the 15th District!