Friends and Neighbors,
The 60-day legislative session ended just before midnight on Thursday, March 10. State lawmakers concluded their work on time and aren't expected to be back on the Capitol Campus again until January 2023. The possible exception would be if a special session is called.
Like any other legislative session, there were successes and disappointments. For the second year in a row, the process was largely remote – with all committee hearings online and a limited amount of state representatives allowed on the House floor. While there were several ways for the public to be involved virtually, it simply cannot replicate the in-person interactions that are so critical to policymaking. I hope and expect to get back to normal in 2023.
Supplemental operating budget
The final supplemental operating budget passed by the Legislature increases spending in the current 2021-23 budget cycle by $6.1 billion, bringing total spending to about $65 billion. This pushes state spending in 2021-23 $12.5 billion higher than in 2019-21 – an increase of 24%. This type of unsustainable growth in the operating budget concerns me, especially with dark economic clouds forming on the horizon.
No meaningful tax relief
This state spending plan makes no provision for any meaningful tax relief, despite a historic budget surplus and inflation and gas prices that are decimating the personal finances of so many people. The majority party even took out their initial proposal of a sales tax holiday designed to help with school-year expenses. The Legislature could and should have given some of these extraordinary tax collections back to taxpayers who are struggling.
I voted against the supplemental operating budget because it spends too much, saves too little, and does not provide real tax relief.
I supported a House Republican supplemental operating budget framework that would have reduced the state sales tax, lowered the B&O tax for manufacturing and trucking, and expanded an existing tax incentive for food processors – measures aimed at alleviating inflationary pressures on Washingtonians. The plan would have also paid for the priorities of state government, added more police officers in our communities, and left a healthy amount in reserve for a rainy day.
There were other ways for the Legislature to provide significant tax relief. As the ranking member on the House Finance Committee, I was ready and willing to work with the majority party on ideas. I introduced House Bill 1898, which would provide property tax relief by reducing both parts of the state property tax levies. The measure could not even get a public hearing.
No emergency powers reform
For the second year in a row, the majority party showed no interest in real emergency powers reform. My colleague, Rep. Chris Corry, introduced House Bill 1772. The measure would increase legislative involvement in states of emergency proclaimed by the governor. It received a public hearing and had strong public support but did not move out of the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee.
The Senate did pass weak, watered-down legislation relating to the governor's emergency powers – Senate Bill 5909. Editorial boards correctly pointed out that this bill didn't do much. When the measure came to the House floor, House Republicans offered amendments to strengthen it. After just 20 minutes of debating the first amendment, House Democrats pulled the bill down and later killed it. You can watch that debate here.
Washington state is an outlier on this issue and how much power it grants to the governor. Regardless of who occupies the governor's mansion, Democrat or Republican, we must restore balance and trust in state government. And this requires true emergency powers reform.
Democrats were able to push their 16-year, $17 billion transportation package through at the end of the legislative session. Unlike past packages, the process in developing it was purely partisan and Republicans were not consulted. I have been involved in the development of prior proposals and understand the importance of both bipartisan input and perspectives from different parts of the state.
While I acknowledge our state has transportation needs, I was unable to vote for this package. My concerns are:
- It raises fees on Washingtonians.
- It uses fees from policies that will further increase the cost of fuel.
- It focuses on the Puget Sound region but not other parts of the state.
- It does not invest enough in preservation and maintenance of existing infrastructure.
- It relies on $57 million annual transfers from the Public Works Assistance Account. Communities depend on this account for important upgrades and investments.
It is important to recognize that this is in addition to the 16-year transportation package passed just six years ago, which included a state gas tax and vehicle fee increase. The Legislature has struggled to keep the promises it made in this package.
Supplemental transportation budget
The news is not all bad though. Most bills pass the Legislature with strong bipartisan, if not unanimous, support. And there are several success stories.
This includes the supplemental transportation budget which is different than the transportation fee package. This biennial budget funds the day-to-day operations and projects previously approved. It assures we have law enforcement keeping our roads safe as well as WSDOT repairing and maintaining roads and bridges, and upgrading roads, overpasses, and interchanges. For these reasons, I voted for it.
Supplemental capital budget
The bipartisan supplemental capital budget, which I voted for, also passed in the last few days of the legislative session.
As I mentioned in my last email update, this budget will spend $1.5 billion on infrastructure, housing, mental health facilities, broadband, and school seismic safety statewide. It will also fund important local projects in the 20th District:
- $6 million for a water system improvement project in Morton.
- $2 million for upgrades to Lewis County Fire District #5 station and construction in Napavine.
- $875,000 for the Lewis County Regional Tennis and Wrestling facility in Chehalis.
- $750,000 for the Oakview Elementary School in the Centralia School District.
- $515,000 for a playground in Tenino.
- $515,000 for the Woodland Community Library Building project.
- $155,000 for the North Trailhead restroom and covered shelter in Castle Rock.
Small business tax relief
This year, state lawmakers were able to provide long overdue small business tax relief. Senate Bill 5980 will increase the B&O tax small business credits and increase the tax filing threshold. I was happy to support this legislation because I think it will help many small businesses that have struggled the last two years dealing with the pandemic, workforce issues, and increased costs.
Part-time Legislature, full-time state representative
While the legislative session is over, I am your full-time state representative. Please feel free to contact me throughout the interim. My legislative assistant and I are here to listen and help any way we can.