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Friends and Neighbors,
Due to restrictions, I was not able to send you an email update from December 1 through January 12. I hope you had a restful holiday season and that your year is off to a great start.
The 2020 legislative session began on Monday and will run 60 days. This is considered a “short session” and the pace will be fast. State lawmakers will need to pass supplemental operating, transportation and capital budgets – which means making mid-course adjustments to these two-year state budgets. The issues of car tabs, tax policy, homelessness and housing will also be front and center over the next two months.
New Speaker of the House
Rep. Laurie Jinkins of the 29th District (Tacoma) was sworn in as the new Speaker of the House on Monday. She replaces Rep. Frank Chopp, who had been Speaker of the House since 2002. Speaker Jinkins gave a speech to the full House body on Monday where she outlined her priorities.
I met with Speaker Jinkins this interim and appreciated her willingness to discuss the issues that are important to the 20th District. Time will tell what this new era in the Washington State House of Representatives will mean for Washingtonians. Speaker Jinkins has been the biggest proponent of a new capital gains income tax over the last few years, and the idea could be gaining new momentum this legislative session. As the ranking member on the House Finance Committee, I will continue to oppose this legislation, but will look for bills where the Speaker and I can find common ground – ground that will lead to solutions that work for citizens in our district.
$30 car tabs, transportation funding
Washingtonians sent a clear message last November: They want $30 car tabs. Instead of respecting the will of the voters, lawsuits have been filed to challenge and invalidate I-976. It could take a while for this issue to be settled in our court system.
The Office of Financial Management's fiscal impact statement for I-976 says it would create a $478 million state revenue shortfall. It's up to the Legislature to respond and adjust accordingly.
State lawmakers can pass legislation to implement $30 car tabs and find alternative, permanent funding for our state's transportation system. In fact, my caucus has introduced a plan to do this.
House Bill 2227 would limit state and local taxes, fees and other charges relating to vehicles, and establish $30 car tabs. The Senate companion is Senate Bill 6031.
House Bill 2323 would dedicate the state sales tax on motor vehicles for transportation. This would not be a new tax on Washingtonians. Rather, it would take money normally earmarked for the general fund and dedicate it to a transportation preservation and maintenance account. The change would be phased in over time, lessening the impact on our operating budget.
Sen. John Braun is sponsoring a similar, but not identical, version of this bill – Senate Bill 6041.
Ignoring the will of the voters is unacceptable. As a member of both the House Transportation and Finance committees, I expect to be right in the middle of the $30 car-tab debate all legislative session. I will stand up for you and keep you updated.
License plate bills
I am prime sponsoring two license plate bills this legislative session.
• Mount St. Helens license plate | House Bill 2085 | Because this is a natural feature in our district, it attracts tourists. By adding a license plate, we give citizens the chance to advertise/promote Mount St. Helens wherever they travel – hopefully encouraging more people from all over to come visit the area and spend their tourism/travel dollars at our local businesses. The money for the plate goes to the Mount St. Helens Institute to continue its educational programs regarding the eruption and its recovery. You can learn more and support this effort here: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/MSHSLP.
• Working forests license plate | House Bill 2166 | The purpose of this license plate is to raise awareness about the importance of both salmon recovery and working forests in our state, and how economic vitality and salmon recovery can co-exist. Revenues from the license plates will support the Washington Tree Farm Program. This is a sustainable forestry certification program that ensures healthy privately-owned forestlands continue to contribute to our state's clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, while producing the jobs, wood, and timber products we all need. Supporting the Washington Tree Farm Program will support small forest landowners and help keep these landowners on the land, continuing to grow trees.
On December 18, Gov. Inslee introduced an expensive proposal to combat homelessness statewide through his 2020 supplemental operating budget. He wants to spend $300 million over the next two years by tapping the state's Budget Stabilization Account – often referred to as our state's rainy-day fund.
While I think there is a role the Legislature can play to address homelessness at the state level, I do not support funding solutions with the rainy-day fund. This fund should be used for one-time emergencies, such as an inevitable economic downturn.
Homelessness has exploded in our state – in urban, suburban and rural areas. It is a complex issue that is affected by drug abuse, mental health, housing affordability and enforcement of the law. Each one of these elements has its own set of challenges.
The Legislature has come together to make critical investments and reforms in our state's mental health system the last few years. I am hoping this bipartisan action can act as a template for addressing other elements of the homelessness problem.
I am willing to listen to all proposals that are brought forward. However, I am not convinced the taxpayer dollars currently being spent on this issue are being spent wisely. We must examine what we are doing and how effective it has – or has not – been. While more state involvement may be part of the answer, there needs to be accountability at the state level, while allowing local innovations to provide solutions.
I hope you find these email updates informative. If not, you are welcome to unsubscribe below. My plan is to keep you updated every two weeks throughout the legislative session.
I welcome your emails, calls, letters and visits in Olympia. Please contact me if I can ever be of assistance.
408 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7990 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000