Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature finished its work minutes before midnight on April 28, narrowly averting a special session. That's the good news.
The bad news: There were several policies passed this year that will hurt families and employers. Worse yet, the process used by the majority party to advance some of these policies lacked transparency and public input. When you roll out the final operating budget and tax legislation on the 104th day of the 105-day session, it's simply not a good or fair way to govern – especially when the same party (in this case, Seattle-centric Democrats) controls the Legislature … and NO members of the minority party are even allowed in the room. While that may seem like a partisan take, many editorial boards have recently arrived at the same conclusions:
- The Columbian: State budget process in need of transparency | May 9, 2019
- The Everett Herald: A troubling short cut for state tax increase on banks | May 7, 2019
- The Seattle Times: Washington lawmakers dodge the constitution with title-only bills | May 6, 2019
- The Seattle Times: Legislature 2019: Some gains at high cost | May 3, 2019
- The News Tribune: New tax hard to swallow; Washington Democrats pull fast one in Legislature's last weekend | April 30, 2019
We did not need to raise taxes on anyone
When state lawmakers came to Olympia in January, our state was in the best budget situation of the 21st Century due to a strong economy and historic tax collections – revenues were up and caseloads were down. My seatmate, Sen. John Braun, explained this in more detail in this edition of his Economic Sense newsletter. In fact, our state had a nearly $2.8 billion surplus when it came time to write the 2019-21 operating budget.
However, the majority party signaled early on – taking their lead from Gov. Inslee in December – they wanted to grow government and raise taxes. They never backed off these positions. Here is a chart that shows which taxes they raised and by how much. The 2019-21 operating budget relies on all of the taxes not shaded below. That's because the Democrats moved some of their spending and tax increases outside of the operating budget.
We did not need to raise taxes on anyone. Unfortunately, taxes were raised anyway. And, the taxes that were raised will have ramifications for citizens and our economy.
For example: Senate Bill 5997, which will change the nonresident sales tax exemption into a remittance/refund program, will negatively impact so many of our retail businesses close to the border. While budget writers will simply write this off as some Oregonians paying more, it will cost local jobs and hurt our border economies. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin gets it. In this recent editorial, they write: “The bottom line is that repealing this tax exemption at the point of purchase might hurt the state's economy worse than anticipated.”
As the ranking member on the House Finance Committee, I led an effort to stop all of the new tax increases that came through the committee. My Republican colleagues and I fought as hard as we could in committee on April 19. You can watch some of the highlights of our speeches at this YouTube link.
We also fought against new tax increases on the House floor. Some of our floor speeches can be found in this compilation video. In the end, the majority was just too set on its positions to grow spending and raise taxes.
There is some good news though. We were able to stop the capital gains income tax. However, this legislation will be eligible to advance in the next legislative session and the push for this idea will continue.
Other bills that will increase the cost of living
In addition to new tax increases, the majority passed other bills that will ultimately increase the cost of living and add financial burdens to many employers. For example, it's clear that the governor's clean energy bill will increase energy bills for families and employers well into the future. A new government long-term care benefit, funded by a new employee-paid payroll tax, was also created this year. The majority also passed a levy-lift measure that will result in more property tax increases locally and greater school-funding inequities across our state.
I voted against all of these bills. I hear from so many people who are on fixed incomes or just struggling to get by. They are doing the best they can with what they have, but just want government to stop placing more financial burdens on them. This year, the majority added to their concerns.
2019-21 operating budget
The 2019-21 operating budget will spend $52,438,000,000.00 in state funds, representing an 18% – or $8,000,000,000.00 – increase in state spending. This budget is simply not responsible – nor sustainable. The approach leaves our state and many of its services vulnerable in the next economic recession.
I was in the Legislature in 2007 – when state spending became bloated. State tax collections spiked around that time, primarily due to a hot housing market, and the majority chose to ignore Republican warnings about growing state spending to unsustainable levels. Then, the Great Recession hit and tax collections fell. For the next two budgets cycles, state lawmakers had to make deep cuts to programs and services.
This snapshot of state spending since 1995 illustrates my points. Please take note of what our state is now expected to spend in the 2021-23 budget cycle.
While I am disappointed with spending levels and tax increases, I will point out that there were some bipartisan policy accomplishments this year – through various bills. Critical reforms were made to address special education; mental health; the opioid crisis; forest health; salmon runs; rural broadband access; and rape kit backlogs. We should celebrate these accomplishments.
The 2019-21 capital budget is another example of a bipartisan success. Rep. Richard DeBolt again played a key role in developing this $4.9 billion budget. I sponsored many of the capital budget project requests for the 20th District and I am happy to report the following local projects will receive funding:
- Woodland YMCA
- Yale Valley Community Library
- Southwest Washington Regional Ag Business Park
- North County Recreation Association
- Scott Hill Park and Sports Complex
- Onalaska Carlisle Lake Park improvements
- Tenino City Hall renovation
- Packwood FEMA floodplain study
- Horseshoe Lake ADA revitalization
- Greenwood Cemetery restoration
To learn more about these projects, please visit this website and enter “20th Legislative District” in the right-hand corner.
Forests and fish
I am disappointed we couldn't get capital-budget writers to fully fund compensation to small landowners through the Forestry Riparian Easement Program. We made promises to these landowners, who were required to leave more timber along streams and wetlands, which we should keep. The capital budget should have included more than $17 million in funding for these landowners. Instead, it only funded $2.5 million of the $17 million requested.
The Family Forest Fish Passage Program, designed to help small forest landowners remove fish blockages, was also underfunded. Rather than the $20 million requested, the program only received $5 million. It is my hope we can live up to the promises made, get caught up on our obligations and provide adequate funding each biennium in the future for this program.
I also want to credit my friend, Rep. Andrew Barkis, for working on the 2019-21 transportation budget as our new ranking member on the House Transportation Committee. I have held this position and taken on this role. It is time-consuming and a lot of hard work. You can learn more about 20th District projects at this link (again, enter “20th Legislative District”).
House Bill 1801
I sponsored a measure this year that will permit state and local governments to apply for a certificate of authority to restore, maintain, protect, and preserve an abandoned cemetery. The bill was designed to resolve issues around Greenwood Cemetery in Centralia.
I am happy to report that Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1801 into law on April 24, with the measure going into effect that day. This was important because it allows cleanup at Greenwood Cemetery to begin before Memorial Day. As this recent article in The Chronicle points out, The City of Centralia will host a cleanup day from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 18. That's great news.
House Bill 1803
Gov. Inslee also signed my House Bill 1803 into law last Tuesday. The legislation will increase the number of waivers the Superintendent of Public Instruction may grant to small school districts requesting permission to reduce the minimum number of school days required in a school year. The maximum number of waivers will increase from five to ten.
This program does not allow for reduced instructional hours. Those requirements stay in place. Rather, for example, a waiver would allow a school district to have a four-day school week with slightly longer days.
Before running this bill, I asked a few questions regarding the results seen by those school districts operating under a waiver. What I found was that the districts were saving money, had strong community support and students were performing well.
This will allow more local control when it comes to our schools – with local, elected officials making decisions based on community input. If this makes sense for a district and has community support, school districts should be able to explore this option.
House Joint Memorial 4007
Requested by Lewis County citizens, House Joint Memorial 4007 will make a request to the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) that it name the bridge over the Skookumchuck River on State Route 507, between milepost 4 and milepost 5, the “Regina Clark Memorial Bridge.” The WSTC, following a process that allows for public input, will then make a final decision.
Regina Clark served in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was the first Lewis County resident to be killed in Iraq. I am proud to have sponsored this memorial that will honor her life and loss. You can learn more about Regina in this article from The Chronicle.
Speaker Chopp resigns
On the last day of the legislative session, the House took time to honor long-time Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, who announced last November that this would be his last session as Speaker. He quietly resigned as Speaker on May 3, but will remain a state representative.
Speaker Pro Tempore John Lovick will be “Acting Speaker” until a permanent Speaker is elected at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session in January. House Democrats indicated they will choose a speaker-designate on July 31.
I am your state representative year-round
While the legislative session is over, please remember that I am your state representative year-round. I am here to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you with state agencies. My legislative assistant, Tori, works in Olympia year-round. We work as a team to review voicemails, emails and letters we receive so we can get the best results possible for our 20th District citizens, no matter what time of year. Please do not hesitate to contact us at (360) 786-7990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.